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US forces leave Afghanistan's Korengal Valley

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[April 20, 2010]  KABUL (AP) -- U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan's perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said Wednesday.

InsuranceThe isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has seen fierce fighting between NATO and Taliban insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.

The repositioning reflects the new thinking among commanders that forces are best used to protect the civilian population rather than placed in scattered outposts that are highly exposed to militant activity and difficult to resupply and reinforce.

"This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy," Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement e-mailed to media. "The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in other parts of the region, as well."

The strategic shift coincides with the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, most on missions to drive the Taliban from populated areas and provide enough security to allow local governments to consolidate control and bring about economic recovery.

Korengal, in eastern Kunar province, has a reputation as one of most dangerous areas in the country, where its rugged mountainous terrain makes it a perfect insurgent hunting ground. Three Navy SEALs were killed in an ambush there in 2005, while a helicopter carrying American special forces sent to rescue them was shot down, killing 16 American troops in one of the deadliest single attacks on the U.S. military since the war began in 2001.

Since then, the insurgents have used the cover of caves and trees to attack small American units patrolling the valley, a hotbed of Taliban support whose native tribes speak a distinct language -- Korengali -- and adhere to the austere Wahabi brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and practiced by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

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Deaths of U.S. troops in other remote corners of the country have also driven the reassignments, with eight Americans killed in an Oct. 3 gunbattle that broke out when hundreds of insurgents stormed a base in mountainous Nuristan province just north of Kunar. In 2008, U.S. and Afghan troops abandoned a remote outpost elsewhere in Nuristan after militants killed nine American soldiers in an assault.

Also Wednesday, Afghan officials said a policeman died in a gunbattle and a 12-year-old boy was killed by a roadside bomb in a violent area of eastern Afghanistan.

Sayed Ismail Jahangir, spokesman for the governor of Ghazni province, said militants fired on Afghan police patrolling in Gelan district Tuesday night. Police chased a vehicle filled with insurgents to an area where more militants were lying in wait. The policeman and an insurgent were killed in a one-hour battle that followed.

The governor's spokesman said the boy died last night in Ghazni's Andar district when he stumbled onto the roadside bomb on his way home.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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