70 to 80 Taliban killed in Afghanistan

(Associated Press) - An estimated 70 to 80 Taliban militants were killed by NATO soldiers in fighting in southern Afghanistan after police told military authorities where insurgents had gathered, an official said Monday.

NATO soldiers suffered no casualties in the fighting in Helmand province that lasted into early Sunday, said Maj. Luke Knittig, the spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, reports Trend.

The battle was in a remote location and there was no way to independently confirm NATO's casualty figures, provided by the commander on the ground.

"He had a pretty good idea of what he was up against and a pretty good idea of what effect he had on them," Knittig said.

The fighting was in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province but outside the town of Musa Qala, where British troops in October pulled out after an agreement with tribal elders that they would keep Taliban fighters out of town, Knittig said.

"The elders, as I understand it, have extraordinary influence, but that influence doesn't spread across the whole district, just mostly in the town," Knittig said. "If anything the deal in Musa Qala has freed up more of our troops to conduct the kind of reconnaissance patrol that was so effective in this engagement."

Afghan security forces had told NATO that insurgents increased their activity the last couple weeks in the area between the Musa Qala and Nawzad districts, Knittig said. About 100 to 150 Danish soldiers, along with Afghan forces, fought against the insurgents using attack helicopters and jet fighters, he said.

The fighting was part at least five violent confrontations in southern Afghanistan over the weekend. Two people were killed in Kandahar city Sunday after a car bomb exploded near a British convoy. One person was killed by troops who felt threatened and fired at civilians.

There have been 11 suicide attacks in Afghanistan since Nov. 18, said Adrian Edwards, the spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He said 20 percent of the country is currently affected by the insurgency.

Taliban militants have launched a record number of suicide and roadside bombs this year. A growing insurgency, especially in the country's south and east, have left close to 4,000 people dead.

Knittig said there has been an average of 9.4 attacks a day in recent weeks and that the number of coordinated, complex attacks has dropped dramatically. He said that NATO forces are going out and attacking Taliban positions.

"What you're seeing is us doing what we said we would do through the winter months, seek out insurgents where they might otherwise seek safe haven," he said. "Danish reconnaissance patrols aren't hanging out in the barracks waiting for springtime."

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