Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Death toll rises as new violence kills 19 more in Afghanistan

AP , KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan policeman laughs as a colleague talks on a cellphone while sitting inside a destroyed Russian car at a checkpoint in Kabul on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Angry villagers dug graves yesterday to bury dozens of suspected militants and civilians killed in one of the deadliest US airstrikes since the US-led invasion in 2001, local residents said, while 19 people were killed in new violence.

Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol in southern Afghanistan's mountains yesterday, killing three police but leaving 12 militants dead, while in violence near the capital, three health workers and their driver were killed by a land mine, officials said.

According to coalition and Afghan figures, the latest violence brings the death toll in a storm of violence that erupted a week ago to 305, mostly militants. It's the deadliest spate of fighting in four years and comes ahead of preparations for the US-led coalition to hand over security operations in southern Afghanistan to NATO by July.

The coalition said 20 Taliban were confirmed killed in the airstrike on the village of Azizi in Kandahar Province late on Sunday or early Monday, while up to 60 more may also have died.

Local officials said that additionally, 17 civilians had been killed, but one villager, Haji Ikhlaf, said that 26 civilians had been buried by early yesterday.

"We've buried women. We've buried children," Ikhlaf, 40, said by cellphone from the area, which has been closed off to reporters by local security forces. "They are killing us. We are so angry."

Villagers also dug graves of slain Taliban rebels, he said.

US commander Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry said on Monday that the military was "looking into" reports of civilian deaths. Other coalition officials said they were confident they had hit a Taliban compound.

Yesterday's ambush against police occurred in Helmand, a province neighboring Kandahar and heartland of the country's multibillion dollar heroin trade.

Ghulam Muhiddin, the provincial administrator, said dozens of Taliban fled after the attack, leaving the bodies of 12 fighters behind.

Police reinforcements were rushed to the area and also found several assault rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers.

The medical workers were killed on Monday about 40km west of Kabul on a busy road often frequented by foreigners, said Bashar Gul, a local deputy police chief.

The blast killed a doctor, two nurses and their driver, he said. The four worked for the Afghan Health Development Services, a local aid group.

The attack is the latest in a string of assaults on teachers, doctors and other aid workers in recent months.

Last month, gunmen stormed a medical clinic in a northwestern province and killed five doctors and nurses.

The Taliban opposes the presence of the development workers because they believe they bolster the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Militant supporters of the former regime have stepped up attacks this year, drawing a tough response from coalition and Afghan government forces.

The coalition airstrike on Azizi was the third clash there in a week. US Air Force A-10 Warthog warplanes bombed an Islamic school where the militants were suspected of hiding, before hitting surrounding homes as the insurgents took shelter.

Up to 27 militants were killed in a ground battle and airstrike in the same area on Thursday.

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