Taliban Attack During Ambassador Holbrooke's Marja Visit

Ambassador's plane fired on as he lands, suicide bombers attack as he leaves.

June 21, 2010, 3:38 PM

MARJA, Afghanistan June 21, 2010— -- Ambassador Richard Holbrooke got a up close look at the Afghan war today, including gunfire at his aircraft and suicide bombers.

He visited Marja, a key town, to assess whether the new U.S. counter insurgency strategy is working or falling short.

Taliban gunmen tried to shoot down Holbrooke's V22 Osprey as it approached for a landing, triggering a gunbattle with the insurgents that lasted for about 10 minutes. And a trio of suicide bombers detonated themselves during an attack on the U.S. base as Holbrooke was leaving.

Holbrooke, the White House's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited Kandahar and Marja today to see for himself what progress looks like here. He was traveling with Karl Eikenberry, the former Army general who is now U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Marja was taken from the Taliban during a February offensive spearheaded by U.S. Marines, and is seen as an important test for the Obama administration's strategy.

But the Taliban have remained in the area engaging in an intimidation campaign aimed at those cooperating with the U.S. or the nascent Afghan government in the region, planting homemade bombs and getting into periodic firefights and rocket attacks targeting Marines and Afghan security forces.

Holbrooke and Eikenberry were traveling in a Marine Osprey, a tilt-rotor plane that can take off and land like a helicopter.

As the Osprey prepared to land in Marja, several gunshots rang out aimed at the incoming Osprey. By the time the plane had landed Afghan National police were laying down a hail of gunfire. Marines said they saw three or four men firing both at them and at the aircraft.

Ambassador Holbrooke Laughs Off Marja Attacks

Holbrooke shrugged off the attack. "I've been shot at in other countries, a lot of other countries," he said with a laugh.

His departure from Marja was also marked with an attack. Seconds after Holbrooke's convoy left Marja's government center a huge explosion occurred.

Afghan police said the explosion was the premature detonation of the bombs of three suicide bombers. They were planning an attack on Afghan officials and Holbrooke, the police said.

Haji Ghulam Wali, a commander with the Afghan National Police said, "We had information a team of suicide bombers had been here for 17 days planning an attack. I believe they are all dead now."

The ambassador rejected suggestions that the stubbornness of the Taliban resistance in Marja raises doubts about the current strategy.

"I don't think you can draw a national conclusion from what happens in Marja as simply as that. It's a complicated situation," Holbrooke said.

Kandahar promises to be another difficult test this summer for the U.S. led forces. The strategy is to gradually increase the presence of U.S. troops in a ring around the city, while helping Afghan forces oust the Taliban from inside the city.

Kandahar is the spiritual home for the Taliban and is a stronghold for the insurgents.

Across the country it was a rough day for coalition forces. At least six NATO troops were killed and British casualties reached a milestone with the death the 300th British soldier.

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