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Insurgents killed in Afghan south; blast in west

Written by: Staff
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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 yesterday, the force said in a statement. Two British soldiers were killed in an attack in the same district on Saturday.

''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. About 50 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.

An official at Herat's main hospital said nine students had been wounded.

Herat has for years been one of the most peaceful parts of the country but several bombs have gone off there in recent months. An American civilian was killed in a suicide car-bomb attack in the city in May.

NEW OFFENSIVE 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 could not sustain the high losses they were suffering, he said.

''Their morale will get weaker day by day.'' In a separate incident on Monday, a suspected Taliban bomber was killed when a thermos flask packed with explosives went off in Khost town, in eastern Afghanistan. A boy was wounded, a provincial official said.

An Apache attack helicopter from the US-led force crashed yesterday while hunting insurgents who fired rockets into the main foreign military base in the south.

One crewman was killed and one injured in the crash. The force declined to give their nationality but the US army operates the Apache helicopters at the base at Kandahar.

The cause of the crash was being investigated but the force ruled out hostile fire.

REUTERS SHR RAI2215

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