KABUL, Afghanistan – Fighting between NATO troops and Taliban fighters killed eight soldiers â€” including six Westerners â€” in eastern and southern Afghanistan, where insurgent attacks are running at their highest level since the U.S. invasion, officials said Monday.
Reports from officials Monday and Tuesday indicated 29 militants also were killed in several recent clashes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday he was adding 150 military trainers to a 1,000-person contingent in Afghanistan after months of speculation about France’s commitment to the international force.
“I decided to reinforce the presence of our trainers in the Afghan army, because it is (the Afghan army) that must first of all wage and win the fight against the Taliban,” Sarkozy said in opening an annual conference of French ambassadors, his first as president.
Speculation that France could withdraw troops surfaced after it pulled out 200 special forces in December, and after Sarkozy said during the campaign that France had no reason to stay long-term.
There have been more insurgent attacks on Afghan and Western troops in recent months than at any time since U.S. forces invaded in 2001 to oust the Taliban government, which harbored al-Qaida before and after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.
In the Netherlands, defense chief Gen. Dick Berlijn said a Dutch sergeant was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan Sunday night near the town of Deh Rawod.
Gunmen shot and killed another NATO soldier during a foot patrol in eastern Afghanistan the same day, NATO said. On Monday, a third NATO soldier was killed and another wounded when insurgents ambushed them using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said.
NATO did not release the soldiers’ nationalities, but most NATO troops in the east are American.
Another ambush Monday killed three members of the U.S.-led coalition and two Afghan soldiers in eastern Kunar province, a statement from the coalition said. It said the coalition soldiers were advisers to the Afghan army, but did not identify them.
On Tuesday, officials said U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops had battled suspected Taliban militants in two separate clashes in southern Afghanistan, killing up to 19 insurgents. The clashes occurred Monday in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province and Shah Wali Kot district in neighboring Kandahar province.
Abductions targeting Afghan officials and foreigners helping with reconstruction also have become a key insurgent tactic.
A purported Taliban spokesman said the militants will resume face-to-face talks with South Korean officials on Tuesday on the fate of 19 Korean church volunteers kidnapped as they traveled by bus from Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
The insurgents have demanded the withdrawal of around 200 South Korean troops currently in the country and the release of militant prisoners in exchange for the captives’ freedom.
Two hostages have been killed and two released.
The spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said the fourth round of talks would be held in the central town of Ghazni under the mediation of the International Red Cross, which oversaw the previous negotiations.
Neither the Red Cross nor South Korean officials were available to confirm the planned talks.
Afghan police, meanwhile, killed six suspected militants during a one-hour gunbattle in Paktika province, which borders Pakistan, late on Sunday, said Ghamia Khan, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He gave no more details.
In the southern Zabul province, Afghan and coalition troops clashed with insurgents in Daychopan district Sunday, killing four suspected Taliban and wounding four others, said Fazel Bari, the Daychopan district chief.
Also Sunday, Afghan and coalition troops destroyed a heroin laboratory after battling Taliban fighters guarding the facility, a separate coalition statement said. The lab in Helmand contained large amounts of opium-processing chemicals as well as weapons, insurgent propaganda and explosive materials, it said.
Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin supply, and a significant portion of the profits from the $3.1 billion trade are thought to flow to Taliban fighters who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.