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Fighting kills scores in Afghanistan

Written by: Staff

KABUL, Oct 25 (Reuters) NATO troops have killed almost 50 Taliban guerrillas and several civilians in fighting in the Islamist group's southern heartland, witnesses and alliance officials said today.

A NATO spokesman said 48 insurgents had been killed in three separate clashes, along with several civilians, yesterday in an area which NATO said had been cleared of hundreds of rebels during a two-week offensive last month.

Residents of Panjwayi district, near the provincial capital of Kandahar, Kandahar city, said up to 60 people had been killed in the attacks by the NATO-led International Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) yesterday.

''ISAF has received credible reports that there were a number of civilian casualties including women and children arising from one or more of these incidents,'' the NATO spokesman said.

Several civilians were also killed in Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand province, the heart of the illegal opium trade, in fighting over recent days.

''The bombardment continued for four to five hours and the NATO troops took away some of the injured in the morning,'' Haji Nek Muhammad, 50, from Zangwardi village said of one attack.

Another villager, Jamila Bibi, said about 20 members of her family were buried under the rubble when their homes collapsed from the bombing.

Earlier, NATO said its forces and Afghan police seized more than 9 tonnes of hashish in a southeastern province bordering Pakistan, a major smuggling route.

The drugs were found in a truck after the driver was stopped at a checkpoint in Zabul province, NATO said in a statement. The driver and three others in the truck were arrested.

Since April, more than 13.5 tonnes of narcotics have been confiscated by police in what the United Nations has said will be a record year for the production of opium, the raw material for heroin.

Afghan officials say the growing Taliban insurgency is fuelling the drugs trade which in turn helps fund the rebellion.

This has been the bloodiest year of fighting in Afghanistan since US-led forces ousted the Taliban's strict Islamic government in 2001 for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden over the September 11 attacks in the United States.

More than 3,000 people have died, mostly militants but also civilians and more than 150 foreign soldiers.

Reuters PB DB2304

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