U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Christie takes aim during a battle Sunday with members of the Taliban in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. ( Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press )
Eight soldiers from Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team died in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked a pair of remote outposts in Nuristan province, two Colorado Springs media outlets reported Sunday.
The Army hasn't identified the dead, but the Colorado Springs Gazette and KOAA-TV said military sources confirmed that all eight were from the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade, which went to war in May.
Fort Carson spokesmen would not confirm the reports Sunday until they heard from the Department of Defense. DOD Maj. Shawn Turner said he could not speak until the next of kin of the eight dead soldiers had been notified.
The post had lost 270 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan before Saturday's deaths. Since the Afghanistan war began in 2001, the post's highest number of casualties in a single incident was five, a total reached in three Iraq bombings — one in 2007 and two in 2008.
U.S. military officials said Sunday that the day-long battle near the Pakistan border, in which the eight U.S. soldiers were killed as hundreds of insurgents stormed a pair of remote outposts, is likely to fuel the debate in Washington over the direction of the troubled eight-year war effort.
The insurgents were armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades during the fierce gunbattle Saturday in the Kamdesh district of Afghanistan's mountainous Nuristan province. It was the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a raid on an outpost in the same province.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, plans to shift U.S. troops away from remote outposts that are difficult to defend and move them into more heavily populated areas as part of his new strategy to focus on protecting Afghan civilians.
U.S. troops used artillery, helicopter gunships and airstrikes to repel the attackers, inflicting "heavy enemy casualties," according to a NATO statement. Fighting persisted in the area Sunday, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for NATO, said the assailants included a mix of "tribal militias," Taliban and fighters loyal to Sirajudin Haqqani, an al-Qaeda-linked militant based in sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Afghan authorities said the hostile force included fighters who had been driven out of the Swat Valley of neighboring Pakistan after a Pakistani military offensive there last spring.
"This was a complex attack in a difficult area," U.S. Col. Randy George, the area commander, said in a statement. "Both the U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together."
Details of the attack remained unclear Sunday, and there were conflicting reports of Afghan losses because of poor communications in the area, 20 miles from the Pakistani border and about 150 miles from Kabul.
A NATO statement said the attacks were launched from a mosque and a nearby village on opposite sides of a hill, which included the two outposts — one mostly American position on the summit and another mostly Afghan police garrison on a lower slope.
Denver Post staff writer Tom McGhee and Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Lori Hinnant in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.