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Written by: Staff

SPIN BOLADAK, Afghanistan, Sep 9 (Reuters) NATO forces today 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 today after the worst suicide attack on the capital since the Taliban fell in 2001.

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

MORE TROOPS NEEDED 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.

Alliance leaders meeting in Poland today agreed they needed more troops and fewer nationally imposed limitations on the use of their forces to fight the insurgents.

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

No pledges of extra troops were announced after two days of talks in Warsaw but NATO officials said national defence chiefs had agreed to consult with their capitals on reinforcements to tackle fiercer-than-expected Taliban resistance.

''Our collective assessment is that we are satisfied with military-related progress to date, particularly in the north and in the west but less so in the south,'' General Ray Henault, the Canadian general who chaired talks among national defence chiefs in Warsaw, told a news conference.

Henault said they also agreed to review the caveats, or restrictions imposed by individual NATO nations on what their troops can do, ranging from a ban on night-flying to deployments in direct combat in the violent south.

''In our meeting we discussed national caveats and pressed for the need to reduce them to the minimum possible,'' he said.

NATO commanders until recently insisted that caveats, long a bane of other NATO operations, were not an issue in Afghanistan.

But the rising violence in Afghanistan appears to have prompted them to call for greater flexibility in how they can use troops.

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 opium crop this year worth about $3 billion and who are keen to keep the army and police at bay.


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