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U.S. Troops Abandon Afghan Outpost Following Attack

U.S. Troops Abandon Afghan Outpost Following AttackKABUL, July 16 (Reuters) - U.S. troops have pulled out of a remote outpost in northeastern Afghanistan, NATO-led security force said on Wednesday, three days after Taliban militants tried to overrun the base and killed nine U.S. soldiers.

NATO played down the significance of the withdrawal, but Taliban militants are sure to claim victory in driving foreign forces out of the wooded valley, close to the Pakistani border.

Taliban militants briefly breached the incomplete defences of the newly established base in the Wanat district of Kunar province on Sunday and hours of fierce fighting ensued that killed nine U.S. soldiers and many more insurgents.

It was the biggest single loss of life for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since 2005.

"We can confirm that a temporary outpost which was established in the village of Wanat has been removed," said NATO spokesman Mark Laity. "We will continue to patrol the village along with the ANA (Afghan National Army)." Asked whether the pull-out was related to Sunday's attack, Laity played down any link.

"Such posts are established and removed when they are not serving a purpose," he said.

Afghan soldiers killed seven militants in clashes in the same area on Tuesday. The assault on the base came less than two weeks after U.S. coalition aircraft carried out airstrikes close by that Afghan officials said killed about 15 civilians.

"The citizens in Wanat and northern Kunar province can be assured that ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) are going to continue with a strong presence in the area," an ISAF statement said on Wednesday.

Provincial officials said foreign airstrikes killed nine civilians from one family in western Farah province on Tuesday.

The issue of civilian casualties is undermining support for international forces' continued presence in the country.

"I am aware that nine people were killed in a foreign troops' air assault last night, but I don't know who the dead people are," the provincial police chief General Khalilullah Rahmani told Reuters, adding that an investigation team was on its way to assess the situation.

The district governor confirmed the incident and said four women, four girls and an eight-year-old boy were killed in the bombing.

Also on Tuesday, the Taliban kidnapped three judges in Logar province south of Kabul, the provincial governor, Abdullah Wardak, said. (Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Fogarty)

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