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SANGSAR, Afghanistan — When the U.S. military recently dropped soldiers into this rural farming village, the hometown of the Taliban’s charter members, they went days without firing a shot.

But the Taliban have since retaliated for the intrusion onto turf they’ve long held with two suicide bombings, killing nine U.S. soldiers in the last month.

The most recent bombing was Sunday morning. The Taliban smashed a van laden with explosives into a small combat outpost that the military had set up within the last two weeks in the Zhari district of Kandahar. Six American soldiers were killed and at least six others were wounded, along with about half-dozen Afghan troops. Two of the American wounded were flown to larger hospitals for treatment, and the others will return to duty.

The massive explosion, one of the deadliest on coalition troops this month, happened a little before 9 a.m., collapsing the roof of a small, mud-walled room along the northern side of the outpost that served in part as the operations center. During the chaotic hours after the explosion, the casualty numbers ticked upward as soldiers previously unaccounted for were found buried deep in the rubble.

Wounded American and Afghan soldiers were medevaced from the outpost, as nearby soldiers were sent to the scene with excavating equipment. The small outpost was manned by an American platoon and Afghan National Army soldiers. Most of the austere compound was not covered, and the soldiers slept outside in tents.

The U.S. military said it detained two men Sunday evening after the suicide attack, but they don’t know at this time whether the men are connected to the bombing. They were arrested after being stopped at a checkpoint and testing positive for TNT on their hands. One of the men earlier had raced a motorcycle toward a combat outpost about a quarter-mile down the road from the bombing site. Soldiers guarding the outpost shot at the man, who abandoned his bike and fled in a cab, military officials said.

Two other platoons took over command of the bombed outpost, which was later reinforced with concrete barriers, military officials said. Units in the surrounding area were on high alert throughout the day as reports came in of more possible suicide bombers.

The Associated Press reported that the Taliban immediately took responsibility for the bombing, saying it was in retaliation for attacks on its fighters in the last few months.

The U.S. military has two combat outposts in the area of Sangsar, which is where Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar held the movement’s first meeting — the heart of the heartland. Coalition forces have had only a sporadic and short-term presence in the area in the last nine years, and no troops had been in Sangsar since 2007.

At the beginning of November, soldiers arrived in the area and conducted a two-week clearing operation. The main element was on the ground for four days before taking fire. This part of Zhari was one of the last to be cleared in the volatile district since the military’s massive effort started in September as part of the push to oust the Taliban from Kandahar.

Sunday marked the second time a suicide bomber has killed soldiers in this area in the last four weeks. Last month, soldiers were returning from a patrol during which they had talked to villagers for the first time, and they took small-arms fire.

As the platoon pursued the insurgents, a man wearing traditional attire and an outer cloak walked up to the soldiers and ignored orders to stop. A soldier shot him twice, but the man’s suicide vest detonated, killing three U.S. soldiers and two Afghan soldiers. Three American soldiers were wounded in the attack and are recovering in the States.

mccloskeym@stripes.osd.mil

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