60 Taliban Killed in Southern Afghanistan battles

NATO and Afghan troops backed by warplanes killed up to 60 Taliban militants, officials said Friday, as the US-led coalition battled to gain control of the restive south.

US and Afghan troops backed by warplanes killed more than 35 Taliban militants during a five-hour battle on Thursday in the bitterly contested Helmand province Thursday, the US-led coalition said.

Friday, a joint NATO and Afghan military offensive in the Garmser district of Helmand killed a further 24 militants, the province's police chief Mohammad Nabi Mullahkhil told AFP, although the reports could not be confirmed.

Meanwhile, a British soldier with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed in a separate gunbattle with rebels on Friday, becoming the 12th foreign soldier to die in Afghanistan in a week.

US special forces and Afghan troops also killed three Taliban who pinned down a group of civilian contractors after their helicopter came down in another area.

The fighting on Thursday, where 35 of the rebels were killed, took place in the Sangin district of Helmand, which some 1,000 Afghan and international troops wrested from insurgent control at the weekend.

Sangin is one of several districts in southern Afghanistan that have been out of government control at times during the last year amid a fierce insurgency led by the Islamist Taliban.

"More than 35 Taliban fighters were killed by ANA (Afghan National Army) and coalition forces during the five-hour afternoon battle,"
the coalition said in a statement.

The statement said the clashes erupted after the troops identified several militant groups in the region. US air support was also called to pursue the fighters as they fled, the statement said.

The British soldier was killed and two others wounded in southern Afghanistan when their patrol fought fierce firefights with Taliban insurgents, the Ministry of Defence in London said.

The fighting erupted when a unit returned from a patrol aimed at reassuring Afghans that NATO forces were improving security in an area of northwest Helmand province and spotted five Taliban preparing an ambush.

The soldiers based near the town of Now Zad opened fire on the Taliban who were soon reinforced, with other fighters firing mortars, rockets, RPGs, heavy machine guns and small arms, the ministry said.

One of the soldiers received serious gunshot wounds, it added in a statement relayed from an ISAF press centre in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan.

Backed by an Apache attack helicopter exchanging fire with Taliban fighters on the ground, a Chinook ambulance helicopter arrived to collect the casualty and evacuated him for medical care at the main British base at Camp Bastion.

However, he was pronounced dead on arrival, the ministry statement said.

The death brought to 40 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year. Some 170 were killed there in 2006

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