US: 80 Taliban fighters killed

United States-led coalition and Afghan troops killed about 80 Taliban fighters in a six-hour battle following an ambush in southern Afghanistan, the US military said on Sunday.

Taliban fighters opened fire on Saturday with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades on the joint coalition and Afghan army patrol from a trench near Musa Qala in Helmand province, the most important town held by insurgents.

“The combined patrol immediately returned fire, manoeuvred, and employed close air support resulting in almost seven dozen Taliban fighters killed during a six-hour engagement,” the US military statement said.

Such large pitched battles are relatively rare in Afghanistan where the Taliban prefer to “shoot and scoot” before air strikes can be called in.

But the insurgents are expected to fight hard to defend Musa Qala, around which their fighters are heavily dug in after taking control of the town in February, security analysts say.

A Taliban official in the town denied any insurgents had been killed around Musa Qala and accused foreign forces of dropping bombs on civilians.

Several Taliban insurgents were also killed after an ambush on US-led coalition troops in neighbouring Kandahar province, the US military said.

Nato-led forces are also conducting large-scale operations in Helmand and Kandahar, but unlike the US-led coalition force, do not release Taliban casualty figures.

Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence since the Taliban regrouped and re-launched their offensive against the Afghan government and its Western backers two years ago.

More than 7 000 people have been killed in that time.

US-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001 after the hard-line Islamist movement refused to hand over al-Qaeda leaders following the September 11 attacks on the United States.—Reuters

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