(AP) — NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces killed about 60 insurgents along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in what was described as the largest insurgent formation crossing the border region in six months, NATO said.
The U.S. commander in the region late Friday said the number of insurgents reported moving over the Afghan-Pakistan border has increased in recent months, though the higher numbers may be due to additional troops observing activity.
Attacks in that region — Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan where the U.S. military operates — rose 250 percent in May compared with May 2006, according to U.S. military information.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said that about 60 insurgents attempted to attack Afghan and ISAF forces Friday in the Bermel district of Paktika province, near the Pakistan border. The insurgents fired on aircraft, and NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces returned fire, killing about 60 fighters, an ISAF statement said.
The ISAF statement said it was the "largest formation observed since Jan. 10 maneuvering in this area." In January U.S. forces said they had killed about 130 of 180 insurgents crossing the border.
"These individuals clearly had weapons and used them against our aircraft as well as shooting rockets against our positions. This demonstrated intent to cause serious harm to the people of Bermel ... This required their removal from the battle-space," Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, commander of Task Force Fury, said in a statement.
There were no reported Pakistan military, coalition or Afghan forces injured or wounded during the engagement, ISAF said.
Meanwhile, in Kandahar province, Afghan and coalition soldiers killed nearly 20 enemy fighters during a seven-hour firefight, a coalition statement said.
Schweitzer this month is stationed at Forward Operating Base Thunder in southern Ghazni province as part of Operation Maiwand, the first operation planned and led by the Afghan National Army.
In a separate interview, Schweitzer said an increase in U.S. and Afghan forces along the border, as well as an increase in cooperation with Pakistan's military, have led to improved intelligence in the region.
"So I've got all these forces, now I can see a lot more, so it's an increase in reporting of (insurgent) forces moving back and forth. Whether it's an increase or not it's hard to measure since we didn't have the right collection mechanisms out there in the past," Schweitzer said in an interview at a forward operating base in Ghazni province.
The U.S. military has an extra combat brigade operating in eastern Afghanistan compared with a year ago, which may have led to the increase in intelligence and attacks.
Afghan officials have long complained that Pakistan needs to do more to control militants from moving into Afghanistan. Pakistan says it does all it can to stop such movements. Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO have been increasing their cooperation through a tripartite military commission that facilitates regular meetings among top commanders.
Suicide attacks in the eastern part of Afghanistan where the U.S. military operates increased some 230 percent in the first half of 2007 compared with the same period in 2006, U.S. spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher said. Schweitzer said the increase shows the Taliban is less able to launch large-scale attacks.
"That to me is not the barometer that it's getting bad," he said of the rise. "What would be the barometer to me that it's getting bad is if they do large scale attacks everywhere and they're being effective."
From the Associated Press