KABUL, Afghanistan - An attack on an observation post killed an American soldier, the third U.S. fatality this week in Afghanistan, the military said Wednesday, amid a flurry of attacks that wounded over a dozen Americans in the run-up to the Oct. 9 presidential election.
Meanwhile, a group of 11 prisoners, including a former Taliban commander, arrived home from the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another 10 detainees were transferred from Afghanistan to the U.S. naval base, the Pentagon said.
The soldier died when attackers fired on his observation post on Monday in Khost province, the U.S. Department of Defense said. He was identified as Spc. Wesley R. Wells, 21, of Libertyville, Ill.
The military had already announced the death of two U.S. troops Monday in another incident - an attack in neighboring Paktika province.
The two were killed by mortar fire when a "large force of anti-coalition militants" attacked a security patrol in Paktika. Six Afghan soldiers were wounded.
The Department of Defense identified them as Staff Sgt. Robert S. Goodwin, 35, of Albany, Ga., and Staff Sgt. Tony B. Olaes, 30, of Walhalla, S.C.
The U.S.-led force called in A-10 ground-attack aircraft and a B-1 bomber, which dropped two 500-pound bombs on the attackers. At least nine militants were killed, said Maj. Scott Nelson, a military spokesman.
U.S.-led troops clashed with militants in eight separate locations Monday, he said. A total of 14 Americans were injured and one Afghan soldier was listed as missing, he said.
Two Americans wounded by a roadside bomb were being taken to Germany for treatment for "non-life-threatening" injuries, Nelson said. He didn't give details of the other injuries.
More than 900 people have died in political violence across Afghanistan this year, underlining the country's continued instability more than three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks triggered a U.S. campaign to oust the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies.
Since then, Taliban holdouts and anti-government factions have sustained an insurgency across the south and east, despite the presence of up to 20,000 U.S.-led troops and an offer of amnesty by President Hamid Karzai to all but a few dozen leaders.
Karzai has released hundreds of Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails ahead of the election, and on Wednesday officials presented 11 Afghans freed from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The prisoners have shown their strong support for the peace-building and reconstruction process of the country and have intended to take active part in it," Karzai's office said.
A U.S. military spokesman said the prisoners were released at the Afghan government's request.
In a statement confirming the releases, the Pentagon said "the decision to transfer or release a detainee is based on many factors, including whether the detainee is of further intelligence value to the United States and whether the detainee is believed to pose a threat to the United States if released."
The released prisoners included Naim Kuchi, a leader of Afghanistan's nomadic Kuchi tribe, who was detained near Kabul by U.S. forces in January 2003.
Kuchi served as a commander in Logar province during Taliban rule and retained his status as tribal leader after the fall of the hard-line regime.
At the time, the military provided no explanation for his arrest, although human rights groups said he was detained on suspicion of weapons smuggling.
Paraded briefly at Karzai's downtown palace, Kuchi declined to answer reporters' questions.
Another former prisoner, Bader Zaman Bader, said he was interrogated "150 times" by his American jailers but never abused. However, another from the group, who declined to give his name, insisted he was beaten "incredibly."
U.S. and allied Afghan forces captured thousands of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members during and since the bombing campaign which ousted the Taliban.
Hundreds were classified as "enemy combatants" and transferred to Guantanamo Bay. There are now approximately 549 detainees being held at the U.S. naval base following the latest transfers, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The Taliban drew much of their support from Pashtuns, Afghanistan's traditional rulers and largest ethnic group, many of whom resent the influence of minorities in the current government.
One of Karzai's main election challengers on Wednesday criticized his reconciliation efforts as "dangerous."
"Don't forget the crimes of the Taliban against the people of Afghanistan," said Mohammed Mohaqeq, a former commander in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
About 130 paratroopers from a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division being sent to help provide security for the October elections left their base Wednesday. Between 500 and 1,500 paratroopers based in Fort Bragg, N.C., are being deployed and are expected to leave on flights through the weekend.
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