NATO bombs Taliban in eastern Afghanistan

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 KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- NATO launched airstrikes Monday against Taliban insurgents who had forced government forces to abandon a district in eastern Afghanistan. The NATO commander, meanwhile, said there is "clear evidence" that some Afghan militants have trained in Iran.

NATO reported its 50th death this month, according to a tally by The Associated Press - a service member killed Sunday by a makeshift bomb in the south - as U.S. commanders prepared to mark Memorial Day when America remembers the dead from all its wars.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph T. Breasseale said the latest service member killed was not an American, though an American was killed in a separate incident on Sunday.

May is already the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops with 33 deaths - two more than in February when American, NATO and Afghan forces seized the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province. The month also brought the 1,000th U.S. military death in the Afghan war since it began in 2001.

U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters in the capital on Sunday that Iran - Afghanistan's western neighbor - has generally assisted the Afghan government in fighting the insurgent group.

"There is, however, clear evidence of Iranian activity - in some cases providing weaponry and training to the Taliban - that is inappropriate," he said. McChrystal said NATO forces are working to stop both the training and the weapons trafficking.

Last month, McChrystal said there were indications that Taliban were training in Iran, but not many and not in a way that suggested it was part of an Iranian government policy. He did not give details on how many people have trained in Iran at Sunday's news conference.

Early Monday, NATO aircraft fired guided munitions on Taliban positions at Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan, a province in the mountainous region on the Pakistani border. No casualty figures were given.

Government forces last week abandoned the district's main town after a major assault by Taliban militants, many of them coming in from Pakistan, Afghan officials said.

Taliban strength grew in the Nuristan area after U.S. troops abandoned an outpost where eight American soldiers were killed in a fierce attack last October.

Further south, NATO said a civilian contractor's helicopter crash-landed Sunday in Paktia province, killing one civilian on the ground and slightly injuring three crew members. NATO said the cause of the hard landing was being investigated, but there were no reports of insurgent involvement.

McChrystal was attending Memorial Day ceremonies at the main U.S. military base, Bagram Air Field, on Monday. Ceremonies included the unveiling of a construction beam from the World Trade Center destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was donated by an American nonprofit group supporting U.S. forces overseas.

The Taliban have spread out beyond their heartland in the south in recent years to increasingly launch attacks countrywide.

In the north, insurgents detonated a remote-controlled bomb Sunday as a police convoy passed by, killing seven officers in a province previously considered to be relatively safe, said deputy provincial Gov. Shams-ul Rahman.

The attack was the deadliest of a half-dozen separate incidents across the country.

In nearby Kunduz province, militants attacked a police checkpoint in Ali Abad district, triggering a gunbattle that killed three insurgents and wounded seven others, the Interior Ministry said.

Eight Afghan police were wounded Sunday by a suicide bomber who struck a checkpoint on the outskirts of Khost City southeast of Kabul, officials said.

The AP's casualty figures are based on Defense Department reports of deaths as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Non-U.S. deaths are based on statements by governments that have contributed forces to the coalition.


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