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Up to 20 Taliban die in air attack by U.S.


KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military said its warplanes and helicopters killed up to 20 suspected Taliban members in southern Afghanistan yesterday morning while coming to the aid of a U.S. patrol under attack by the militants. After the fighting, reinforcements of U.S. and Afghan troops were sent to the area to scour for more Taliban, said Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a spokesman at Bagram Air Base.

The clash was another indication of the recent resurgence of Taliban activity in southern Afghanistan. This year, 15 members of the U.S. forces have been killed, eight of them in the last six weeks.

Ambushes, roadside explosions and attacks on Afghan government offices are daily occurrences now in southern Afghanistan. Three rockets were fired into Kandahar on Saturday night, causing no casualties but shaking a city already stunned by the assassination of a senior cleric on May 29 and a bomb attack at his mourning ceremony three days later that killed more than 20 people.

Yesterday, the U.S. patrol came under attack from small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades about 10 a.m. in mountainous terrain 80 miles northwest of Gereshk, in Helmand Province, the military said in a statement issued from Bagram. Pinned down, the patrol called in air support.

"U.S. aircraft and attack helicopters engaged the enemy," the military's statement said. "Initial battle-damage assessments indicate 15 to 20 enemies died and an enemy vehicle was destroyed."

Afghan government officials in the area said they had no knowledge of any fighting.

The attack followed two clashes with Taliban fighters on Friday in neighboring Kandahar Province, where a police chief, an administrator and 11 police officers were captured and their district offices were overrun and burned. A Taliban spokesman said in a telephone call to news agencies that the police chief was executed yesterday, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

A judge and two other government officials were killed in an ambush on their car on Saturday night not far from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, news agencies reported.

The killings are among a series of assaults in the south and east of the country in recent weeks - including deadly attacks on a team of doctors, a tribal elder and an election worker - that the Afghan authorities and U.S. military have said are part of a new campaign by the Taliban and other insurgents intent on disrupting parliamentary elections in September.

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