US-led troops kill 23 militants in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Nov 17 (Reuters) US-led coalition forces killed 23 militants during weapons searches in southern Afghanistan, the US military said today.

While rebel casualties mount, there are scant signs their insurgency to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces is weakening, but instead there have been more clashes this year compared to 2006 and spread over a wider area.

Coalition forces searched compounds in the Garmser district of Helmand province looking for weapons.

''Several armed militants threatening coalition forces were engaged and killed during the course of this operation,'' a US military statement said.

Another 11 suspects were also detained, it said.

Afghan troops killed more than 10 Taliban fighters in the Zherai district of the southern province of Kandahar today, the the provincial police chief said.

A suicide bomber blew himself up while targeting US forces in eastern Afghanistan, but no one else was hurt in the attack, the Jalalabad provincial spokesman said.

The Taliban have killed more than 200 people in over 130 suicide attacks this year.

While the number of attacks and casualty figures are up from last year, the proportion of foreign troops and civilians killed in suicide bombings is down, security analysts say.

This is because foreign forces are better protected against the attacks and the Taliban are using fewer suicide car bombs which tend to kill more bystanders. The percentage of Afghan police and soldiers killed has gone up, though.

In the usually more peaceful north, armed gunmen loyal to a former warlord killed nine policemen and wounded another five in an ambush, the provincial police chief said today.

''The police team was sent to the Shahrak district to disarm an irresponsible armed group posing a threat to the people,'' Shah Jahan Noori, the police chief of Ghor province.

While efforts to disarm former fighters have had some success, after 30 years of war Afghanistan is still awash with weapons and armed groups have been reforming in some areas as the security situation deteriorates.

In the west, five rockets landed at Herat airport overnight, the Herat border police chief Rahmatullah Safai said.

''Initial reports indicate that no one was killed, but we don't know the extent of damage at the moment,'' he said.

Herat airport is also used by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban said the international troops were the target of the attacks.

REUTERS PD KN1733

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