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Clashes in Afghanistan, Pakistan leave 19 dead

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Militants attacked government offices and a police convoy yesterday, continuing a series of assaults that has left at least 41 people dead in the region over two days, government officials said.

About 250 Afghan forces fought more than 200 rebels in the area's fiercest fighting in months. At least 19 people were killed yesterday in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghan officials said US forces joined the battle Friday and yesterday, but a US military spokesman said he could confirm involvement only in the first day of fighting.

The violence spread across the border as a roadside bomb exploded near an army vehicle yesterday in Pakistan in a northwestern tribal region near Afghanistan, killing three security personnel, an official said.

Nobody claimed responsibility late yesterday, but security officials have blamed Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda for previous attacks in the area, where Pakistan has sent thousands of troops to flush out insurgents.

The bloodshed yesterday underscored the challenge facing thousands of British and Canadian troops in the coming months as they gradually relieve American forces in southern Afghanistan, a hotbed of insurgency and the drug trade.

Fighting began Friday with a mountain ambush of a police convoy that left 16 militants and six police dead and scores wounded, said Amir Mohammed Akhund, the province's deputy governor.

US and British warplanes bombed suspected Taliban militants fleeing the fighting about midnight Friday, killing eight of them, said Khan Mohammed, a police chief in Helmand Province.

Another group of militants fleeing the initial clash attacked a government office early yesterday, killing the government chief and wounding four police, Akhund said. Later in the day, another group of militants attacked the main government office in a neighboring district, setting off a two-hour gun battle that left one policeman and three suspected Taliban dead, he said.

The fighting prompted dozens of families across the area to flee their villages, he said.

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