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More than 60 Taliban fighters die in clashes, US military says

Roadside bombs in Afghanistan kill 2 NATO troops

KABUL - Afghan and US-led coalition forces killed more than 60 Taliban in battles in restive southern Afghanistan, taking the guerrilla death toll to more than 200 in two weeks, the US military said yesterday.

In separate incidents, two NATO soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in the south while an armed group kidnapped 12 Afghan nationals working for a local demining group in the eastern province of Paktia yesterday, their employer said. It was the latest in a series of abductions.

Insurgents ambushed a coalition patrol in Kandahar province's Shah Wali Kot district with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, and more than 40 Taliban were killed in the ensuing battle, the US military said. Hours later, Afghan and coalition troops backed by air strikes killed another 20 guerrillas in another district of Kandahar, the site of clashes in recent months, it added.

"As the insurgents continued to reinforce their positions with additional fighters, the ground commander requested coalition close air support. Coalition aircraft destroyed multiple enemy positions with precision-guided munitions," the US military said.

There was no independent account of how many people were killed or what had happened.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said earlier by telephone from an undisclosed location that the Taliban had downed an American helicopter in the area. NATO denied that any helicopters had been lost.

The two NATO soldiers killed by roadside bombs at undisclosed locations in the south were not identified, in line with policy.

The US-led military says coalition forces have killed hundreds of Taliban in confrontations in recent weeks. The Taliban have admitted some losses, but say Afghan and foreign troops vastly exaggerate enemy death tolls.

More than 7,000 people have been killed during the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since the resurgent Taliban's overthrow in 2001.

It was not clear who was behind the abduction of the deminers. Three deminers were kidnapped and murdered last month in an attack blamed on the Taliban. In June, Taliban fighters kidnapped 18 Afghan demining specialists. They were released.

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