KHOST, Afghanistan — An ambush by insurgents on a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol left six U.S. and three Afghan troops dead in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday.

Eight more U.S. troops, along with 11 Afghan National Army members, were also wounded in the shootout, which happened on Friday afternoon. The attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan for U.S. troops this year.

U.S. Army spokesman Lt. Col. David Accetta said the soldiers were not on a combat patrol when they were attacked.

“They were actually on their way back from a meeting in a nearby village with elders,” Accetta said via telephone from Bagram air base, just north of the capital, Kabul.

He said that insurgents used rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire when they attacked the patrol. Officials said it was too early to determine whether the attack was carried out by Taliban or al-Qaida forces. Criminal gangs also operate in the area.

According to The Associated Press, Friday’s attack brings the total of U.S. deaths this year to 101 and makes 2007 the deadliest year for American soldiers in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The ambush happened in the mountainous province of Nuristan, which is home to the famed Hindu Kush range.

The incident “is the single-highest, casualty-producing ground engagement in Regional Command East since we took over in February,” Accetta said, referring to the U.S. military’s area of responsibility.

U.S. officials would not confirm the nationalities of those International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, members killed, but one western military official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity involved, did confirm those killed were American.

The U.S. has responsibility for a large swath of territory in Afghanistan’s volatile east along the Pakistani border. The area has been a hotbed for skirmishes in recent weeks, resulting in several deaths of U.S. and Afghan forces. Dozens of Taliban and al-Qaida militants have also been killed in those battles.

ISAF is the name given to the NATO-led force operating in Afghanistan. Thirty-eight countries currently contribute to that effort, according to ISAF spokesman, U.S. Air Force Maj. Charles Anthony.

He said the names of those killed will not be released until next of kin are notified.

“There are a lot of countries in ISAF who are highly sensitive to releasing names and countries of origin before next of kin are notified,” Anthony said by telephone from ISAF headquarters in Kabul.

One dead rebel body was recovered from the battle scene and Accetta said U.S. forces suspected more insurgents were killed, but an accurate number has not yet been determined.

He said the loss was being felt around the world. Most of the troops operating in the area of the attack are with the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is based out of Germany and Italy.

“Our condolences go out to those families of the soldiers who were killed and we hope for a speedy recovery to those who were wounded,” Accetta concluded. “But this will not deter us from bringing peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan.”

Nuristan is the province where Afghans first began rebelling against Soviet occupation in the early 1980s.

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