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Taliban kill 8 police, surround east Afghan office
Wed Jul 8, 2009 10:58am EDT
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By Rafiq Sherzad
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A district in Afghanistan's restive east was in danger of falling into Taliban hands after pitched gunbattles with insurgents killed at least eight police, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The fighting erupted late on Tuesday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nuristan bordering Pakistan, where authorities are also battling a growing Taliban insurgency.
Violence has flared across Afghanistan after U.S. Marines launched a major new offensive in the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand last week.
The police were killed when insurgents attacked government buildings in Nuristan's Barg Matal district late on Tuesday.
Another eight police were kidnapped during gunbattles lasting several hours, Nuristan's governor Jamaluddin Badr said.
"The district headquarters is with the government, but if we do not get reinforcements it will fall to the Taliban," Badr told a Reuters reporter in eastern Afghanistan by telephone.
Officials said 21 Taliban fighters were killed in the battle.
The Taliban said on a website that they had surrounded the building. They said only four of their fighters had been killed.
The Defense Ministry in Kabul said an additional 130 soldiers and police would be sent to Barg Matal to counter the Taliban attack. Fighting had subsided, officials said late on Wednesday.
The U.S. Marines launched the Helmand offensive, Operation Strike of the Sword, with violence at its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Helmand is the source of most of Afghanistan's opium crop, the world's largest, which finances the insurgency.
The Marines are the biggest wave of 17,000 new combat troops U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered into Afghanistan by year-end as part of his new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Marines commander Brigadier-General Larry Nicholson and senior Afghan officials attended a flag-raising in Khan Neshin, long under Taliban control.
"This is the Iwo Jima moment," Brigadier-General Larry Nicholson told Reuters in Khan Neshin, referring to the famous World War Two battle U.S. Marines fought against Japan.
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