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26 Sep 2007 14:01
Nato and United States-led troops backed up by warplanes said on Wednesday they had killed nearly 170 Taliban in two major battles in southern Afghanistan, while a US-led coalition soldier also died.
The heaviest of the fighting with the Islamic insurgents erupted on Tuesday in the volatile southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, and continued into Wednesday, the coalition said.
“The initial estimate by the ground-force commander assessed that more than 104 insurgents were killed thus far in the engagement,” it said in a statement. The figures could not be verified independently.
A soldier with the 15 000-strong US-dominated coalition was also killed and four wounded, it said.
The nationalities of the foreign soldiers were not announced.
The fighting erupted during an Afghan and coalition patrol aimed at clearing an “extensive trench system” near the Taliban-controlled district centre of Musa Qala in Helmand, Afghanistan’s main opium-growing province.
More than 65 rebels were killed late on Tuesday in a similar battle in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan, another hotbed for the Taliban insurgents, said a separate Nato-led force that has about 40 000 troops.
Nato warplanes and artillery supported the Afghan and Nato forces on the ground, it said.
“Precision-guided munitions were employed on positively identified Taliban positions, killing more than 65 insurgents,” the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) statement said.
There have been several major clashes in southern Afghanistan in the past few weeks during which scores of rebels have been killed.
The latest death of a coalition soldier took to 173 the number of international troops to have died in Afghanistan this year, most in combat operations, according to an Agence France-Presse count based on official figures.
About 4 000 rebels have also been killed and hundreds of civilians.
An American, Canadian, French and two Spanish soldiers have been killed in action since Friday, while an Italian intelligence officer was severely wounded in an operation on Monday that freed him and a colleague from Taliban kidnappers.
The Musa Qala district centre has become one of the Taliban’s most significant strongholds since the rebels overran the small town in February.
“The end is near for the Taliban that believe Musa Qala is safe from Islamic Republic of Afghanistan forces,” coalition spokesperson Major Chris Belcher said in a statement about the latest fighting.
The Nato force reported, meanwhile, that one of its helicopters overturned in the western province of Badghis late on Tuesday while trying to land during a mission to rescue Afghan police wounded in a bombing.
No Isaf staff were hurt during the incident, which did not involve hostile activity, it said in a statement. The Taliban reportedly claimed the chopper was shot down.
The bomb blast killed three Afghan police and wounded four more, Isaf said. A local police official also confirmed the incident.
A second helicopter was able to recover the crew of the damaged helicopter and two critically wounded Afghan police.
The Taliban were driven from government six years ago and are waging an insurgency that has intensified this year with almost daily attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
In other incidents reported on Wednesday, two rebels were killed when a bomb they were planting on a road in southern Ghazni province went off on Tuesday, the Defence Ministry said.
Also, more than 36 Taliban insurgents, 16 of them badly wounded, were captured by Afghan forces after two separate battles in the eastern province of Paktia and central Wardak on Tuesday, officials said.—Sapa-AFP
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