International troops mopped up yesterday after a major set-piece battle with a large Taliban force in southeast Afghanistan which the US-led coalition said left scores of militants dead.
Fierce fighting between coalition forces and the extremist militia raged throughout Tuesday north of the main southern city of Kandahar after a Taliban ambush on an Afghan army patrol, the coalition said in a statement.
The militants attacked the patrol from heavily-fortified positions with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. The coalition said the Taliban positions were continually reinforced throughout the fighting.
Fighter jets pounded Taliban hilltop positions and sniper posts and also destroyed two trucks being used to ferry supplies and fighters to the frontline, the coalition said.
The statement said more than 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the day-long battle in the district of Sha Wali Kot, a known stronghold of the extremist movement which is waging a deepening insurgency against the Kabul government.
The clashes were some of the most intense fighting reported in weeks and indicated a recent Taliban tactic to engage international forces head-on with large groups of fighters rather than stage small guerrilla-style attacks.
A 75-strong group of rebels launched a surprise full-frontal attack on a small US base in the southeastern province of Uruzgan on Aug. 7. On the same day around 20 Taliban tried to storm a British base in neighboring Helmand.
"The operation in Kandahar Province stopped last night and a battle damage assessment is still ongoing," said a coalition spokeswoman, declining to give details on coalition casualties.
The international force said late on Tuesday that an Afghan soldier was killed in the latest fighting, and that three Afghan soldiers and three foreign soldiers were wounded.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi acknowledged there had been heavy fighting with the coalition at Sha Wali Kot, but he said only six Taliban fighters were killed and eight others wounded.
He also alleged 12 civilians were killed in the clashes.
The Islamic extremist Taliban movement ruled most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when they were pushed out of power by US-led forces in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks for giving shelter to al-Qaeda.
The 12,000-strong US-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since late 2001. It is now tasked mainly with hunting down the extremist fighters and their allies in al-Qaeda.
The International Security and Assistance Force, which is drawn up from 37 nations, mainly European, has about 37,000 soldiers in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency.
The international forces in Afghanistan have been hit by a wave of attacks that have left nine dead since Sunday. Since January, 153 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan.
The Taliban insurgency has deepened year-on-year. The UN and other officials say the militants are financing their struggle through opium production, with Afghanistan producing 93 percent of the world's supply of the drug used to make heroin.