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Written by: Staff

KABUL, Sept 9: NATO battled Taliban holdouts in the deserts of southern Afghanistan on Saturday amid a security crackdown in the capital after at least 16 people were killed by a suicide bomber.

Ali Shah Paktiwal, head of the police crime bureau, said officers were checking every main intersection in Kabul after yesterday's blast near the US embassy, which killed at least two American soldiers.

Kabul was relatively quiet on Saturday after the worst suicide attack on the capital since the Taliban fell in 2001.

A resurgent Taliban have mounted daily attacks during summer, primarily targeting foreign forces in the south where NATO took over security from the United States at the end of the July.

NATO says it has killed more than 300 insurgents and cornered hundreds more since it launched its biggest offensive against the Taliban a week ago. The Taliban denies the figures.

''A week has elapsed since the launch of NATO's operation and the Taliban are ... putting up tough resistance,'' the Taliban's chief spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

''NATO has failed to crush the Taliban's resistance despite its fierce and continuous air as well as ground attacks since the start of the operation,'' he said.

TALIBAN DEAD Coalition forces said in a statement late yesterday that foreign troops had killed another 20 insurgents in and around Panjwayi district in the southern province of Kandahar.

But alliance leaders say the force still needs more soldiers, helicopters and planes to defeat the insurgents.

Many military officials and analysts say the fighting in Afghanistan is now heavier and worse than Iraq.

NATO leaders are pressing member countries to send more troops and equipment to the south after a high-level delegation visited this week, highlighting divisions over where and how some countries deploy their forces.

''Those allies who perhaps are doing less in Afghanistan should think: Shouldn't we do more? ... There are certainly a number of allies who can do more,'' NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels on his return.

He did not single out any nation, but diplomats say Germany, which leads the NATO mission in the relatively calm north, is under pressure to provide reinforcements for the south.

More than 2,300 people have died his year in the Taliban resurgence that has led to the heaviest fighting since US-led troops toppled the hard-line Islamists.

While most of the fighting is in the Taliban's southern heartland, there have been increasing attacks in Kabul.

The guerrillas have moved beyond small-scale hit-and-run operations to pitched battles and larger strikes, sheltering and training in Pakistan despite efforts by Islamabad to stop them.

They are in part being bolstered by drug lords, who are expected to reap a record crop this year worth about $3 billion and who are keen to keep the army and police at bay.


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