Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Forces take fight to Afghan militants

ROUND 2 As the Taliban get a second wind in a battle to control the beleaguered country, Afghan and coalition forces have mounted a new offensive to restore order

AP , KABUL

A crew member from a US Chinook helicopter sits on the cargo bay as it flies from Helmand Province to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Friday. The US soldiers are involved in offensive operations in southern Helmand Province as part of Operation Mountain Thrust.

PHOTO: AP

Afghan and coalition forces killed about 82 militants in multiple assaults across southern Afghanistan, the military said yesterday.

On Friday, troops fought more than 40 extremists during a five-hour gunbattle after receiving enemy fire near the village of Mirabad, northeast of the capital in southern Uruzgan Province, the military said in a statement.

Most of the militants, who were firing from hidden positions in an orchard, ridgeline and compound near Mirabad, were believed killed, the coalition said. No coalition or civilian injuries were reported.

In a separate assault, Afghan and coalition forces battled a large group of militants in the Zharie district of Kandahar province, killing about 25 during the three hours of fighting.

"Several extremists broke contact by using innocent Afghan civilians as shields to escape into nearby villages," the statement said.

Late Friday, the coalition reported that another 17 insurgents had been killed when an enemy bunker had been destroyed in Uruzgan province on Wednesday.

Coalition forces intercepted enemy fighters on Wednesday setting up an ambush site near Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, a military statement said.

Troops "observed extremists with heavy weapons traveling back and forth from a bunker establishing an ambush site," the military said. Soldiers fired on the enemy bunker, killing 17 militants.

The military believed militants were using the bunker to fire on Afghan and coalition forces on three separate occasions during the past week.

Coalition forces have launched a massive offensive against Taliban forces in a bid to stop a wave of suicide attacks and ambushes in the last few months.

More than 10,000 Afghan, British, Canadian and American troops are deployed across Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces -- areas where Taliban forces have regrouped and gained strength and sympathy.

More than 200 insurgents have been killed since Operation Mountain Thrust got underway earlier this month, according to the coalition.

On Friday, provincial officials in Zabul said the decapitated bodies of four men -- who were abducted at gunpoint earlier in the week -- were discovered in Shahjoy district near the village of Chinoh.

The bodies had been found on Thursday and Friday, said Ali Khail, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousof Ahmadi, contacted The Associated Press and said the men had been killed because they had been spying for Afghan and US-led coalition forces.

Khail denied the victims were spies, saying they were civilians with no links to the Afghan government or coalition forces.

Beheadings are not common in Afghanistan. The headless bodies of three police officers were found in late May in the south, several weeks after the decapitated body of an abducted Indian engineer was dumped by a road.

Afghanistan is in the grips of its deadliest spate of violence since the Taliban's ouster in 2001. President Hamid Karzai has decried the intense violence in the south, which since May has left more than 600 people dead, mostly militants.

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