June 9, 2004
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - An Afghan commander said Wednesday that Afghan and U.S. forces killed more than 70 Taliban rebels in a seven-day operation in a mountainous southern district, including at least 20 militants who died in a single clash.
Coalition and Afghan forces returned late Tuesday from the scene of the fighting - the rugged Daychopan district of Zabul province - as the Taliban fighters they had been hunting had either been killed or fled the area, said Jan Mohammed Khan.
Khan, who is commander of Afghan forces and also the governor of neighboring Uruzgan province, said 73 Taliban fighters were killed and 13 captured over seven days, while six Afghan government forces and four coalition soldiers were wounded, and none killed.
"We have finished our operation against the Taliban," Khan told The Associated Press.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment. Previously, officials had reported at least 40 insurgents killed in the past week.
Daychopan, a remote area and Taliban stronghold, lies near the borders of two neighboring provinces, Uruzgan and Kandahar, some 190 miles southwest of Kabul.
It was also the focus of fierce clashes last August and early September which left well over 100 Taliban and one American special operations soldier dead - the heaviest fighting since the hardline Islamic militia was ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
In the latest battle, Khan said that U.S.-led troops backed by jet fighters and helicopters on Tuesday launched an assault on 100 Taliban militants who ambushed a convoy in an area called Sharaboz Kothal.
"We collected 21 bodies," Khan said. "The rest ran back into the mountains." Among the dead were two local Taliban commanders, Mullah Jabar and Mullah Jalan.
On Wednesday, military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager told reporters in Kabul that 20 anti-coalition fighters were killed in what he described as "the latest of several aggressive engagements by the Marines."
He said that two Marines and two allied Afghans were wounded - although earlier a Marine spokesman had said five Marines were hurt. Neither official mentioned air strikes.
Some 2,000 Marines based in Uruzgan have clashed repeatedly with large bands of militants in the region.
Another Taliban commander was killed Tuesday near Musa Qala in Helmand province, some 280 miles southwest of Kabul, said Mohammed Wali, a provincial government spokesman.
The commander, Mullah Malik, and another man opened fire on troops who tried to stop their car. Both were killed when the soldiers returned fire, Wali said. Two soldiers were wounded.
About 450 people have died across Afghanistan this year in a wave of violence that has cast doubts on plans to hold national elections in September.