KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants killed five people, including a former provincial leader, in an ambush yesterday in southern Afghanistan. Meanwhile, US-led forces moved deeper into Afghanistan's southern mountains in an offensive that has killed about 90 insurgents in less than a week, officials said.
More than 10,000 US-led troops have spread out over four southern provinces as part of Operation Mountain Thrust, a counterinsurgency effort aimed at quelling a Taliban resurgence.
Taliban militants ambushed a convoy carrying a former provincial chief yesterday in Helmand, killing him and four bodyguards, said Ghulam Mohiudin, the governor's spokesman. The former official, Jama Gul, had been traveling on a highway in the province.
Police and coalition forces in the nearby province of Zabul also killed two militants, while two wounded insurgents were arrested, said a provincial police chief, Noor Mohammad Paktin.
Afghan soldiers, with US, Canadian, and British troops, are spreading out over Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, and Zabul Provinces to seek Taliban fighters.
More than 500 people have been killed in the past month as insurgents, primarily Taliban, have stepped up attacks against coalition and Afghan soldiers.
British troops battled Taliban fighters on Saturday near the Ka , killing six insurgents, Captain Drew Gibson said yesterday. In the past few days, militants had been firing mortars in an attempt to damage the dam, Gibson said, adding that British forces ``have tightened security in this area."
In the past week, coalition officials said an estimated 85 other insurgents had been killed.
The offensive has been described as the largest anti-Taliban campaign to have been undertaken since the former regime was removed in a US-led invasion.
The operation, which began with limited raids in May, was rolled out in earnest last week to help prepare for the handover of military control to NATO forces in the southern region next month.
Military officials say the surge in fighting appears to be an attempt by the Taliban to seize an opportunity in the south while government influence remains weak and while US-led troops prepare to shift the regional command to NATO troops. Militants' tactics have included increased bombings, ambushes and suicide attacks as the weather has warmed during the spring.
The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told CNN's ``Late Edition" that the Taliban appear to be ``trying to test in the south, where the US forces are handing over to NATO." He noted that US air raids have increased along with fighting on the ground.
``The Taliban fighters have overwhelmingly been losing," Snow said.
``The government is taking control of more and more territory . . . and you can expect there to be pushback by the Taliban."
Air Force officials say the number of air bombardments in Afghanistan -- about 750 in May alone -- has surpassed the number of US air raids on Iraq.
US planes logged nearly 2,000 strikes in Afghanistan from March through May 2006, about as many as the same period in 2005, Air Force Major Michael Young said this month. But he said air raids reached 750 last month, as opposed to 660 in May 2005.