US-led coalition forces killed about 80 Taliban fighters during a six-hour battle outside a Taliban-controlled town in southern Afghanistan, the latest in a series of increasingly bloody engagements in the region, officials said yesterday.
The battle near Musa Qala in Helmand Province is at least the fifth major fight in the area since Sept. 1. The five battles that have killed more than 250 Taliban fighters, a possible sign that US or British forces could be trying to wrest the area back from Taliban militants.
The latest fight began on Saturday when Taliban fighters attacked a combined coalition and Afghan patrol with rockets and gunfire, prompting the combined force to call in attack aircraft, which resulted in "almost seven dozen Taliban fighters killed," the US-led coalition said in a statement yesterday.
The coalition said that four bombs were dropped on a trench line filled with Taliban fighters, resulting in most of the deaths.
The coalition said it killed about 50 militants in two days of fighting in Musa Qala on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, and that it killed more than 100 fighters there on Sept. 26.
Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in February, four months after British troops left the town following a contentious peace agreement that handed over security responsibilities to Afghan elders. Musa Qala has been in control of Taliban fighters ever since.
Situated in the north of Helmand, Musa Qala and the region around it have been the front line of the bloodiest fighting this year. It is also the heartland of Afghanistan's illicit opium poppy farms.
Elsewhere, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan security uniform detonated his explosives at the entrance to a combined US-Afghan base on Saturday, killing four Afghan soldiers and a civilian, officials said.
The bomber walked up to a security gate for Afghan soldiers outside Forward Operating Base Bermel in the eastern province of Paktika, near the border with Pakistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.
Taliban militants also killed three policemen who had been trying to prevent them from carrying out a kidnapping, said Helmand provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. The militants successfully kidnapped an Afghan man during the gunbattle, he said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, meanwhile, said more NATO powers must directly engage the Taliban to help ease the burden on Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, which all have troops in the dangerous southern and central parts of Afghanistan.
Germany, Italy, France and Spain have troops in the relatively safer northern sections, a fact that is causing a rift within NATO, and Australian Howard said those countries need to help ease the burden on countries operating in the south.
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