Scores of Taliban said killed in Afghan, NATO raid

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – Military forces fought major battles with Taliban just outside Kandahar city that Afghan police said killed more than 120 rebels, although the US military issued a much lower toll.Afghan and international soldiers raided what they said was a Taliban headquarters in an operation that started late Saturday and continued into Sunday, about 17 kilometres (10 miles) southwest of the city.

The US-led coalition said the swoop on the complex was based on intelligence that insurgents were attempting to re-establish control after being defeated there last year.

An estimated 25 rebels were killed in fierce fighting, which included strikes by war planes that caused many of the deaths, it said.

Soldiers moved through the compounds, coming under heavy fire. One man blew himself up in an apparent suicide attack that did not cause casualties to the security forces, it said in a statement.

Kandahar province police chief Sayed Aqa Saqeb confirmed the fighting. “Over 100 Taliban were killed and the bodies of dozens of them are remaining on the battleground,” Saqeb told AFP.

Twenty-five Taliban were killed in separate fighting further north, in the Arghandab district which adjoins Kandahar, Saqeb said.

The clash appeared to be the same as one reported by the coalition, which said half-a-dozen insurgents were killed when troops responded to an ambush.

The various international and Afghan security forces involved in the effort to defeat Taliban insurgents and their Islamist allies frequently issue different death tolls.

Many of the incidents take place in remote areas where it is impossible to independently verify the different numbers.

The Taliban first took Kandahar in their sweep to power in 1996 with the help of elements in Pakistan who are said to be aiding the insurgency against the new administration.

They were driven from government in late 2001 by the coalition, which is still tracking Taliban fighters and their allies in Al-Qaeda.

Authorities inside Kandahar city said Sunday they had detained four Pakistanis on suspicion of helping insurgents build bombs.

“On a tip-off we captured four Pakistanis who are experts in making suicide-bombing vests and remote-controlled bombs,” intelligence official Abdul Qayoum Katawazi told AFP.

He would not provide further details, citing an ongoing investigation.

Roadside bombs and Iraq-style suicide explosions have become key tactics for the rebels, who have intensified their attacks as part of a bloody insurgency they are waging against the government in Kabul.

Hundreds of civilians have been caught up in the violence.

Police said Sunday four Afghan civilians were killed and five wounded in a US-led force air raid that pounded Taliban insurgents in mountainous eastern Afghanistan on Friday.

The US-led coalition confirmed the military had dropped a precision-guided bomb on militants who had fired mortars on an outpost in the same area and at the same time.

It said it had reports of non-combatant casualties but they could not be verified.

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