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Clash, blasts, kill 24 in Afghanistan

Written by: Staff

KABUL, July 3 (Reuters) Twenty insurgents were killed in southern Afghanistan after they ambushed US-led forces, the latest battle in the bloodiest phase of violence since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Two coalition personnel were wounded in the clash in the Sangin district of Helmand province yesterdau, the force said in a statement. At least four other people were killed in separate incidents in different parts of the country today.

''The patrol had just completed a cordon-and-search operation, where they recovered an enemy weapons cache, when up to 30 extremists attacked,'' the force said in a statement.

The foreign force has in recent weeks launched a major offensive in the south before a separate NATO-led peacekeeping force takes over command there at the end of the month in what looks set to be the alliance's toughest-ever ground mission.

More than 1,100 people, most of them militants, have been killed in Afghanistan since January. Nearly 60 foreign troops have been killed.

Minister of Defence Abdul Rahim Wardak said the surge of Taliban violence had not been expected but another offensive would soon be launched against the militants whose morale was being eroded by heavy casualties.

In a separate incident today, a bomb went off at a university in the generally peaceful western city of Herat, killing a student, officials said.

The governor of Herat province, Sayed Hussein Anwari, said the bomb was planted in a water jug. He blamed ''enemies of peace and stability'' for the blast. A hospital official said nine students had been wounded.

SUICIDE BOMBER Herat has for years been one of the most peaceful parts of the country but several bombs have gone off there in recent months.

In separate incidents, a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body outside the home of a powerful provincial governor in the southern city of Kandahar, killing himself and a guard, police said. Four guards were wounded.

A suspected Taliban bomber was killed in the eastern town of Khost when explosives he was carrying went off.

Wardak said the Taliban were trying to undermine support for the NATO mission.

''There's no doubt their operations surged more than we expected,'' he told reporters. ''Their planners know all about the takeover by NATO from the coalition, the NATO expansion, and wanted to take advantage to disappoint some NATO members.'' He said a new offensive codenamed Mountain Anger would soon be launched but gave no details. The Taliban cannot sustain the high losses they were suffering, he said.

''Their morale will get weaker day by day.'' REUTERS SHB VV2355

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