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Afghan army says 20 Taliban killed in clashes

Written by: Staff
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SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, Mar 22 (Reuters) Afghan government forces killed 16 Taliban insurgents after surrounding them in mountains near the border with Pakistan, an Afghan army officer said today.

Another four Taliban fighters were killed today after they fired rocket-propelled grenades and rifles at a convoy of Afghan troops and foreign troops in the central province of Uruzgan, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

None of the government or foreign troops was hurt.

Afghanistan has seen a surge in bomb and other attacks by Taliban insurgents and their militant allies in recent months. The Taliban have vowed to launch a spring offensive against foreign forces and the country's Western-backed government.

Afghan forces attacked the Taliban near the southern border town of Spin Boldak late night after getting intelligence reports the insurgents were preparing attacks, said an army commander, General Abdul Raziq.

''We started an operation against them last night by surrounding them. The fighting went on for several hours. When we checked the place this morning we found 16 bodies,'' Raziq said.

Only one Afghan soldier was wounded in the battle, 8 km east of Spin Boldak, he said.

The Taliban were ousted by US-led forces in 2001 for refusing to give up Osama bin Laden and have been fighting since then to expel foreign forces and overthrow the Western-backed government.

Raziq said among the dead were two Taliban commanders -- Mullah Atta Jan and Shish Noorzai -- who he said had been organising ambushes and suicide bomb attacks.

ASSASSINATION BID Separately, the governor of the northwestern province of Faryab said he survived an assassination attempt when gunmen opened fire on his convoy yesterday.

The governor, Abdul Latif, said he did not believe Taliban or other militants were behind the attack in which two by-standers were wounded.

The ambush was result of a long-standing feud in the province, Latif said but he declined to elaborate.

The recent surge in violence has come as Afghanistan's NATO allies, including Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, are sending thousands more troops to the south, where the insurgency is most intense.

Commanders of the US military, which is hoping to cut its troops strength in Afghanistan by several thousand to about 16,000, have said they expect an increase in violence in coming weeks.

Reuters PG BD2139

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