Sixty Taliban, one foreign soldier said killed in Afghanistan

( AFP ) - More than 60 Taliban insurgents and an international soldier were killed in a day-long battle that included air strikes near an insurgent stronghold in Afghanistan, the US-led coalition said.

The battle erupted on Tuesday during a patrol to clear an area of the volatile southern province of Helmand of Taliban fighters, the coalition said in a statement.

It was in the district of Musa Qala, which has been in Taliban control since February.

"The initial estimate by the ground force commander assessed that more than 61 insurgents were killed in the engagement," the statement said.

"One coalition service member was killed and four others were wounded in this engagement."

There have been several major clashes in the same area in the past few weeks, during which scores of rebels have been killed.

The coalition, which is made up mainly of US soldiers, does not announce the nationality of its casualties.

With the latest death, 173 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, most in combat operations against militants, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

An American, Canadian, French and two Spanish soldiers have been killed in action since Friday. An Italian intelligence officer was severely wounded in an operation Monday that freed him and a colleague from Taliban kidnappers

The British military relinquished control of Musa Qala to tribal elders last year in a deal aimed at placating the Taliban and stopping regular battles in which ordinary villagers were being caught up.

But the Islamic rebels overran the small town in February and have remained in control since.

The Afghan government says it could easily take back the town with the help of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led coalition but wants to avoid civilian deaths.

"The end is near for the Taliban that believe Musa Qala is safe from Islamic Republic of Afghanistan forces," coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said in a statement about the latest fighting.

"This combined operation is just one more step to securing the Musa Qala area of the Helmand province," he said.

ISAF reported meanwhile that one of its helicopters overturned in the western province of Badghis late Tuesday in a separate incident while trying to land during a mission to rescue Afghan police wounded in a bombing.

No ISAF staff were hurt during the incident, which did not involve hostile activity, it said in a statement. The Taliban reportedly claimed the chopper was shot down.

The bomb blast killed three Afghan police and wounded four more, ISAF said.

A second helicopter was able recover the crew of the damaged helicopter and two critically wounded Afghan police, it said.

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