KABUL, Afghanistan -- Fighting raged across southern Afghanistan yesterday as the US military pounded suspected Taliban positions with airstrikes that killed as many as 20 militants along a narrow mountain footpath.
A Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, contended that his fighters had assassinated a kidnapped Afghan police chief and five of his men for collaborating with the US-led coalition.
US aircraft opened fire on a group of suspected Taliban along a footpath in the high mountains northwest of Gereshk, in southern Helmand Province, after rebels pinned a coalition ground patrol with rocket and small-arms fire.
''Initial battle-damage assessments indicate 15 to 20 enemies died and an enemy vehicle was destroyed," the army said in a statement. No Americans were injured.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara added a warning to the insurgents.
''When these criminals engage coalition forces, they do so at considerable risk," he said. ''We are not going to let up on them."
Three months of bloodshed across the south and east has left hundreds dead and sparked fears that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down.
Afghan and US officials have warned that they expect more bloodshed ahead of key parliamentary elections in September.
In other violence yesterday, three rockets struck the southern city of Kandahar, jolting residents but causing no casualties.
One rocket hit an empty lot near fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's former home, which now houses US special forces troops, said General Salim Khan, deputy police chief. The other rockets hit elsewhere.
Khan attributed the attack to Taliban rebels, and US troops cordoned off the area next to Mullah Omar's former home.
In a victory for Afghan forces and the coalition, national army troops captured Hazrat Ali, former Taliban intelligence and information chief in central Ghazni Province, said Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Murat. No soldiers were injured in the operation Friday, Murat said.
Purported Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi claimed responsibility for the recent ambush of a police convoy in southern Afghanistan and said insurgents had killed a district police chief and five of his men after taking them captive.