US solider killed in Afghan battle
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Mar 25 (Reuters) One US soldier was killed and one wounded today in an attack on Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the US military said.
Afghanistan has seen a surge in attacks by Taliban insurgents and their militant allies in recent months and the Taliban have vowed to launch a spring offensive against US-led foreign forces and the Western-backed government.
Fighting erupted after US troops backed by helicopter gunships and jets launched an operation in the Sangin district of the southern province of Helmand, after being tipped-off about the presence of Taliban in a village, police said.
US and Afghan forces fought the biggest battle in months against Taliban fighters in the same district at the beginning of February.
US and Afghan forces today attacked about 20 insurgents, the US military said. It did not comment on Taliban casualties saying battle damage was being assessed. One Afghan soldier was wounded.
''There are known Taliban extremists in the Sangin district, and the Afghan National Army and coalition forces will continue to attack,'' said senior US commander Major General Benjamin C Freakley.
A Taliban commander, Mullah Zainullah, said earlier by telephone from the area Taliban fighters had killed five Afghan solides.
Several villagers from Sangin said by telephone some Taliban had been staying a house that got bombed.
Helmand has been a bastion of Taliban insurgents since US and Afghan opposition forces ousted their government in late 2001.
The province is also Afghanistan's main opium-growing region and the insurgents are in league with drug gangs, complicating efforts to bring security and stamp out drugs, security officials say.
British troops have been arriving in the province in recent weeks as part of an expansion of a NATO-led peacekeeping force into the Afghan south. In all, 3,300 British troops will soon be based in Helmand.
REUTERS KD RN1639