KABUL, Afghanistan - US-led forces used artillery and air strikes to kill more than 165 insurgents and repel massed assaults on coalition troops in two strongholds of Taliban militants and Afghanistan's rampant drug trade, officials said yesterday.
The battles in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces came shortly before President Bush and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan met in New York to discuss worsening fighting in Afghanistan and growing opium production, insisting progress was being made.
Nearly six years after a US-led offensive toppled the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden, violence related to the insurgency has escalated. More than 4,500 people, mostly militants, have died this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.
The two latest battles occurred amid a jump in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and as the military makes a last, big thrust against insurgents before colder weather forces a lull in fighting in the mountainous nation.
Karzai and Bush talked on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Despite the rise in opium production and the surge in Taliban activities, Bush said Afghanistan is becoming a safer, more stable country because of Karzai's efforts.
Karzai said that "Afghanistan has indeed made progress," citing improvements in basic services such as roads and education.