April 1, 2011— -- Six U.S. soldiers were killed in action and at least 15 others wounded in Afghanistan earlier this week when they came under fire while on patrol in a remote and dangerous region close to the Pakistan border.
ABC News' Mike Boettcher was accompanying the soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division when the attack occurred in Kunar Province on March 29. They were patrolling close to the border when they were fired upon from three sides by Taliban fighters.
The troops were on a mission to show force in an area where the U.S. largely has abandoned small bases.
The heavy firefight lasted hours, with the U.S. soldiers and Afghan forces digging into a muddy hillside.
According to Boettcher, the Americans and Afghans killed some 50 Taliban fighters and destroyed a Taliban radio headquarters.
When the fighting ended, six American soldiers and one Afghan soldier were dead, with 15 others wounded.
At least seven Medevac helicopters were flown in to rush the casualties to treatment. The operation, called Strong Eagle III, is still ongoing, according to Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in a video teleconference from Afghanistan Thursday.
"There was a significant number of insurgents killed in this operation and several large, large caches found," said Campbell, "We knew this area had a number of insurgents in there. That's why we were targeting this area."
For years, the eastern parts of Kunar Province have been among the most dangerous areas for U.S. forces. The region abuts Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas, where the Taliban finds safe haven among the rugged mountains.
Thirty U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan in March, more than double the number from the month before.
Despite the most recent attack, Campbell said, morale among the 101st Airborne Division soldiers remains high and the losses would not stop others from continuing the mission.
"I know they were saddened by that, but they want to make sure their battle buddy didn't die in vain, that they fight valiantly," he said. "They continue to fight. They are still in this fight right now."
Last month, Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that progress achieved in the past year in Afghanistan is "fragile and reversible." Violence often escalates with the arrival of warmer weather in spring.The Pentagon released the names of the soldiers who were killed, all of whom were from the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), out of Fort Campbell, Ky:
"All of these men will be remembered not just as soldiers but as fathers, husbands, brothers, coaches, mentors, friends and, importantly, as Screaming Eagles," said Campbell.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families as well as the family of an Afghan soldier who lost his life in the same battle," said Campbell. "We continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Afghan partners. We remain convinced the [National Security Force] is on track to assume the security lead here as we proceed in the transition process."