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Nineteen Taliban said killed in Afghan clashes

Written by: Staff
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 23 (Reuters) NATO-led British and Afghan troops killed 19 Taliban guerrillas today, a local official said, as militants vowed more suicide attacks a day after a deadly double strike in the south.

Afghanistan is going through the bloodiest phase of violence since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, with most attacks occurring in the south where NATO-led forces will assume security responsibilities from a U S-led coalition in just over a week.

Scores of British soldiers with the NATO-led mission and Afghan forces attacked several villages in a pre-dawn operation outside Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, where Taliban fighters were hiding, Helmand's deputy governor said.

''Government and British forces killed 19 Taliban and arrested 17 others, including two Pakistanis, in the attacks,'' Amir Mohammad Akhundzada told Reuters, adding there were no casualties among Afghan and British soldiers.

Local residents told Reuters civilians had also been killed.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment.

A day after twin suicide attacks by the Taliban killed at least five civilians and two Canadian troops in Kandahar, adjacent to Helmand, the Taliban warned non-combatants to keep away from foreign and Afghan troops as they planned more attacks.

A suicide car bomber rammed a coalition vehicle in the city, and as Afghan authorities tried to push back onlookers and deal with casualties a second suicide bomber blew himself up.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesman Qari Muhammad Yousaf said civilians should avoid attack sites as second or third strikes could take place against the same target.

The U S-led coalition said the back-to-back bombings, which also wounded dozens of bystanders, would anger locals.

''Recently we've seen populations in the towns and villages where we operate actually push the Taliban away, and not welcome them and harbour them,'' said Major Scott Lundy, a spokesman for the U S-led force.

Afghanistan has witnessed around 30 suicide attacks this year, killing mostly civilians, in a what is a relatively new tactic employed by militants in their bid to force out foreign forces and topple President Hamid Karzai's government.

More than 1,700 people have been killed this year in the Taliban-linked violence and attacks by foreign forces.

Most of those killed were militants, according to Afghan and foreign commanders, but over 70 foreign troops have also died in combat. Scores of civilians and hundreds of Afghan forces have also been killed.

Coalition forces have been conducting daily offensives since June in the face of rising Taliban attacks in the south, the main stronghold of the militants, and the major drug producing region of Afghanistan.

In the southeast today, three coalition soldiers and an Afghan soldier were wounded in a roadside bomb attack, an Afghan army commander said. NATO is due to take charge of security there by the end of the year, giving it nation-wide control.

NATO-led troops will officially take the command of security in the south next week, allowing the U S army to trim the size of its force to 20,000 from 23,000. The alliance already oversees security in the relatively peaceful north, west and Kabul.

REUTERS DKB VV1645

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