Anti-Taliban operation kills 23 rebels, 2 Afghan soldiers

A massive Afghan-NATO offensive aimed at pushing out militants who recently overran several villages in southern Afghanistan was still ongoing Wednesday as two Afghan soldiers and 23 Taliban militants were killed in initial firefights, officials said
As the fighting was going on, the Taliban claimed it had sent suicide bombers into the southern city of Kandahar.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters took over villages Sunday night in
the Arghandab district of Kandahar province, posing a threat to Kandahar city, 20 kilometres to the south, and strategic links from the capital, Kabul, to the southern and western provinces of the country.
In an effort to drive them out, NATO airstrikes were launched on Tabeen village in Arghandab, killing at least 20 militants, the Afghan Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The statement said two Afghan National Army soldiers and three rebels were killed in combat elsewhere in the district, separate Army statements said.
Ahmadi Wali, a unit commander for district police forces, said intelligence reports showed the Taliban fighters were retreating from the villages they had infiltrated.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi said the fundamentalist Islamic group had sent a suicide bomber squad to Kandahar city Wednesday morning to attack Afghan and NATO targets.
"We call on residents in Kandahar city to avoid approaching the enemy bases in the city," Ahmadi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by phone from an undisclosed location.
"These hero mujahedin will attack military convoys and foreign invading leaders and Afghan forces," he added.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, younger brother of President Hamid Karzai and head of the provincial council in Kandahar province, told reporters in Kandahar city that 650 militants, including a large number of foreign fighters, had massed around the district.
Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said government troops had moved inside Arghandab and vowed the operation would continue until the area was cleared of insurgents.
A dpa reporter in the area said NATO jets and helicopters were hovering over the city while weapons fire could be heard and smoke seen coming from the district, a lush area covered with pomegranate trees and vineyards.
A Taliban spokesman had earlier told dpa that the group's forces had repelled the offensive by Afghan and Canadian forces in the district on Wednesday.
A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force predicted the operation would be completed in three days.
The latest development followed a rebel attack on Kandahar city's main prison late Friday which freed about 900 inmates, including 400 Taliban militants.
Taliban claimed that the Taliban prisoners had already joined the fighting groups in the region and "some of them are in Arghanadab district."Reported dpa.

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