Foreign forces in Afghanistan said they had killed around 80 insurgents in the past 24 hours, most of them in a strike on rebels preparing an attack near the Pakistan border.
A group of 45 men and several smaller ones of eight to 10 were spotted just inside the border later Friday preparing to attack a base in the Paktika province, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
“They were clearly armed and they were clearly hostile and that is why they were engaged,” ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas said.
ISAF forces conducted reconnaissance to confirm their suspicions and the insurgents fired on a US-led coalition aircraft, Thomas said.
Coalition forces then unleashed combined air and artillery strikes as the insurgents tried to escape across the border, he said. The operation was coordinated with Pakistan because the area is close to the border.
An ISAF spokesman for the east of the country, Major Donald Korpi, said “up to 60 Taliban were killed.”
Thomas did not have a figure for the dead but did not dispute this toll, saying such numbers were arrived at through various battle damage assessments.
Commanders in the area said it was the largest formation of militants there since January, Thomas added.
On January 11 air and ground strikes on insurgents spotted infiltrating into Afghanistan from Pakistan killed up to 150 of them, ISAF said at the time.
The Taliban’s leadership is believed to have fled into Pakistan when the coalition drove them from power in 2001.
The extremist movement and its Al-Qaeda allies are said to have training grounds just across the porous border.
The coalition reported separately that its soldiers working with Afghan troops had killed nearly 20 “enemy fighters” in a seven-hour battle late Friday in the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
The attackers had initiated the battle by opening fire with machine guns, it said in a statement.
Several more fighters were killed in the adjoining province of Uruzgan when a battle erupted after troops were shot at with multiple rockets.
The coalition also announced it had detained 20 militants early Saturday in an operation against Al-Qaeda militants in Ghazni province.
At one compound fighters had fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the soldiers, who returned fire and killed the assailants, a statement said.
The Taliban’s insurgency has steadily intensified since it was launched, despite the efforts of thousands of foreign troops helping the Afghan security forces.
The interior ministry announced that Afghan and foreign security forces had killed more than 1,500 insurgents in about 80 operations across Afghanistan since March.
About 530 more, including 23 would-be suicide bombers, were captured, it said in a statement.
But insurgent attacks have also increased, with regular suicide and roadside bombings claimed by the militants that have killed scores of civilians.
In a new incident, a district governor said six Afghan civilians driving trucks supplying goods to foreign military bases were killed Friday by Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.
Insurgency-linked violence killed more than 4,400 Afghans last year, the bulk of them rebels but including about 1,000 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.