KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Twenty-five militants were killed by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday, as the U.S. military prepares to hand over security responsibilities in the violent south.
British military spokesman Captain Drew Gibson said coalition forces had dropped three bombs on militant targets in Musa Qala district of Helmand province, where thousands of British soldiers are based as part of a NATO-led mission.
Helmand’s police chief Nabi Mullahkhail said 15 Taliban insurgents were killed and 20 others wounded in Tuesday night’s operation in the southern drug-producing province.
Several people who said they were from Musa Qala phoned journalists to say that most of those killed in the attack were civilians. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said only one militant was killed in the raid and the rest were civilians.
Asked about the reports of civilian deaths, Gibson told Reuters the bombs had been dropped on “legitimate targets”.
NATO will take over command from the coalition in the south on Monday, extending its control over security to all of the country except the east. It will be NATO’s biggest ground operation since its formation over 50 years ago.
Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase of violence since the ousting of the Taliban government in 2001, with most attacks occurring in the south. The coalition says it has killed more than 600 militants since the start of June.
In another two incidents in Helmand on Tuesday the coalition said it had killed seven militants.
Afghanistan’s defense ministry said a further two militants had been killed in combat in the south on the same day, and a third insurgent was killed in the southeast.
On Wednesday, an Afghan soldier was killed by an explosion in Helmand province.
U.S., British and Canadian troops, along with Afghan forces, have been battling the Taliban in Helmand since March. Six British troops have been killed in the region since mid-June.
The Taliban and drug gangs have operated unmolested in Helmand for years and are fiercely resisting efforts by foreign and government forces to extend their authority.
In Zabul province, another to come under NATO control on Monday, police said a civilian construction worker was killed and three others wounded on Wednesday in a Taliban ambush.