KABUL, Afghanistan -- NATO forces killed more than 60 suspected insurgents in the last several days in an increasingly volatile southern Afghan province while suffering no casualties, the military alliance said yesterday .
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said 40 Taliban fighters were killed by NATO airstrikes that ``completely destroyed" a militant base in the district of Grishk on Saturday.
Major Luke Knittig, a NATO spokesman, said the alliance also estimated that about 40 fighters were killed.
A NATO helicopter, meanwhile, fired on about 20 insurgents attacking a NATO patrol in neighboring Naw Zad district Friday, killing 15 of the rebels, the alliance said. In a third attack, a helicopter fired on a group of insurgents who shot at a support helicopter Thursday, killing eight of the militants in nearby Sangin district, the statement said.
NATO troops, mostly from Canada and Britain, moved into southern Afghanistan earlier this summer, taking over from a US-led force in a region that in recent months has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the Taliban regime was defeated in late 2001.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, whose country has about 5,000 soldiers in southern Helmand Province, said yesterday that NATO's battle with Afghan insurgents has been more difficult than anticipated but must continue.
``I think the particular mission was tougher than anyone expected. But I'm not surprised it was tough," Blair said in an interview with the BBC.
He said the Taliban and Al Qaeda are trying hard to gain control in Afghanistan's south and ``it's essential for us to keep them out."
Blair's government has had to cope with charges by middle-ranking officers in Afghanistan that ground troops have not received adequate air support and other backing.
Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a visit to Afghanistan earlier this month that the US military is better able to detect roadside bombs before they detonate, due in part to the creation of an anti-explosives team.
``Now we must work harder every day toward reducing our numbers of casualties from these horrible attacks," said Giambastiani, according to statements released yesterday by the US military.
Taliban fighters have increasingly used suicide and roadside bombs to attack Western troops and Afghan civilians.
The anti-explosives team focuses on trends, techniques, tactics, and procedures used in developing the devices, and the information is passed on to troops in the field, the statement said.
Giambastiani said the Navy and Air Force are sending electronic warfare officers to Afghanistan and Iraq to work on counter-explosives measures. He said the military planned to buy route-clearing equipment for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
NATO has about 20,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, while the United States has an additional 21,000, mostly in the eastern area along the border with Pakistan.