KABUL, Afghanistan – Rebel rockets struck U.S. troops unloading supplies from a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing two and wounding eight in one of the bloodiest assaults on American forces since insurgent violence picked up in March.
The killings came a day after the Afghan government warned that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are waging a campaign of violence in hopes of undermining legislative elections in September, although the rebels failed to disrupt last fall’s presidential vote.
After the explosions at the base in Shkin, 4 miles from the border with Pakistan, U.S. warplanes and attack helicopters rushed to the scene to search for the attackers, but found no trace of them, Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said.
The U.S. spokesman said four rockets hit the base.
“This was a serious attack against coalition forces,” O’Hara said. “Security is not as good as it should be. But when you look at it over the course of months, incidents are on the decline. But that doesn’t appear to be the case today.”
O’Hara said the Shkin base is part of an operation along the border to prevent “foreign fighters from entering into this country to derail the peace process.”
Militants based in tribal regions on the Pakistani side of the mountainous frontier often cross into Afghanistan to launch attacks, Afghan officials say. Seventeen suspected Taliban rebels were reported captured in the border area Monday.
The wounded were flown to other bases for treatment. Their names and military branch were being withheld until families could be notified.
The two deaths brought to 148 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in and around Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom drove the Taliban from power in late 2001, according to Pentagon figures.
Wednesday’s killings came five days after two U.S. soldiers were killed and another wounded when a bomb exploded near a military convoy, also in eastern Afghanistan near the border.
Even though U.S. officials express optimism about progress toward making Afghanistan secure, there has been a sharp rise in bombings, shootings and other violence since winter’s snow melted in mountain passes used by the rebels.
Security forces have killed more than 200 suspected rebels since March, U.S. and Afghan officials say.