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Battle in Afghanistan kills 41 Taliban--governor

Written by: Staff

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Apr 15 (Reuters) Forty-one Taliban fighters and six Afghan policemen were killed in a fierce battle in southern Afghanistan, a provincial governor today said.

There were no foreign casualties in yesterday's battle between Taliban fighters and Afghan and foreign forces in the Zare Dasht district of Kandahar province, Kandahar Governor Assadullah Khalid said.

''Forty-one Taliban were killed in the fighting, mostly as a result of air bombing. Six policemen, including the Zare Dasht police chief, were also killed,'' Khalid told a news conference in Kandahar city. A number of Taliban bodies had been recovered.

Afghanistan has seen a surge in attacks on Afghan and foreign forces since the Taliban announced last month they had launched a spring offensive.

Khalid said the fighting, some of the heaviest in weeks, erupted after foreign and Afghan forces came under attack during a search operation for Taliban hiding in the area.

He said the foreign forces retaliated by bombing Taliban positions.

Nine Afghan troops were also wounded in the battle and Afghan soldiers arrested 13 Taliban guerrillas, Khalid added.

But a senior provincial official who declined to be named said government forces had suffered high casualties as several bombs mistakenly hit them.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, put Taliban deaths at only three and said there were ''high casualties among Afghan and foreign forces''.

Four civilians were also killed, residents said.

Yesterday's battle comes amid weeks of rising violence by Taliban, fighting Afghan government and foreign forces since US-led troops overthrew their Kabul administration in 2001.

US-led forces killed six Taliban in an air strike in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. A blast elsewhere killed three policemen, while two British troops from the NATO-led peacekeeping mission were wounded in a suicide attack in Helmand.

Despite the increased fighting, the US army plans to cut its 19,000-strong force in Afghanistan to 16,500 this year.

Thousands of NATO-led troops from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are due to deploy in the south where the militants are mostly active.

US-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul after its leaders refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.


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