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Soldier from Ewa Beach among six killed in attack on NATO base in Afghanistan

By Star-Advertiser staff and Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:54 p.m. HST, Dec 14, 2010

An Army soldier from Ewa Beach was among six killed in Afghanistan Sunday when an explosives-packed minibus blew up at the entrance of a joint NATO-Afghan base in Kandahar province, the Pentagon said today.

Cpl. Sean M. Collins, 25, and five of his fellow soldiers were killed in the deadliest attack on coalition troops this month.

The Department of Defense identified the other victims as Cpl. Willie A. McLawhorn Jr., 23, of Conway, N.C.; Spc. Patrick D. Deans, 22, of Orlando, Fla.; Spc. Kenneth E. Necochea Jr., 21, of San Diego, Calif.; Spc. Derek T. Simonetta, 21, of Redwood City, Calif.; and Spc. Jorge E. Villacis, 24, of Sunrise, Fla.

They were assigned to the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which has fielded soldiers this year in two of Afghanistan's most violent regions, the south and the east.

The division's commander, Maj. Gen. John Campbell, said during a videoconference from Afghanistan today, that the suicide bomb attack that killed six American soldiers in Afghanistan used enough explosives to bring down the building the soldiers were in.

Campbell said the attack vehicle was loaded with an estimated 1,000 pounds of explosives. He said the vehicle got past an Afghan security point near a joint NATO-Afghan outpost and hit a wall near the building where the six soldiers were.

He said the outpost was in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, the Taliban's homeland and where the military has launched offensives to clear out insurgents this year.

"This was an area that we had gone through and they were continuing to clear it. I don't think they were completely done with the clearance," he said. The soldiers were living together with Afghans in the outpost, he said.

The soldiers were all members of Company B., 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said Monday several suspects had been arrested in Afghanistan for the bombing.

Campbell stressed that the Afghans at the security point did attempt to stop the vehicle, but he couldn't provide details as the investigation was continuing. He was also not sure whether the attackers used Afghan security uniforms, a tactic that has been used in other attacks on NATO bases.

Fort Campbell has lost 104 soldiers this year in Afghanistan, where the division has fielded fighters in some of the country's most violent regions.

"Our sincere condolences go out to families and communities at Fort Campbell and we will keep the families in our thoughts and prayers," he said.

The attack came less than a month after six Fort Campbell solders were shot and killed by a lone gunman from the Afghan Border Police during a training mission in Nangahar province.

It also came just days ahead of a major White House review of its Afghan strategy, following President Barack Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 reinforcements in a bid to reverse gains by the Taliban since they were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Campbell said insurgents were trying to find new ways to get past security and hit coalition forces.

"The insurgents are going to try to take advantage of this seam and sneak people on, so we are really looking hard at force protection and how they inspect people coming on and off combat outposts," Campbell said.

He said despite the recent high casualties, morale remains high among the division's soldiers.

"We can't let the enemy drive a wedge between our forces and the Afghan security forces," he said.

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