Afghan, U.S. forces clash with Taliban


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Afghan police backed by U.S. warplanes battled Taliban guerrillas in a southern province for several hours yesterday as President Hamid Karzai announced he would visit neighboring Pakistan to complain about militants crossing the border to launch attacks.

At least 20 Taliban fighters were killed, including two local commanders identified as Mullah Nasroa and Mullah Torjan, said Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai in Kabul, the capital. Three police officers were killed and 10 injured, but the U.S. military reported no American casualties. Three Taliban prisoners were captured, but other attackers escaped, Stanekzai added.

The battle began early yesterday when a convoy of Afghan police was ambushed by Taliban fighters in Fateh Mohammed Paich, a valley near the Sangeen district of Helmand province, Stanekzai said.

U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts, which attack armored vehicles and tanks, provided air support to the Afghan forces battling the militants, the American military said. U.S. ground forces also participated, Stanekzai added. Afghan army troops were dispatched from neighboring Kandahar province but arrived after the battle was over.

About 3,300 British troops are preparing to move into Helmand province in a deployment by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Their main mission will be to aid reconstruction efforts. But they are likely to be targeted by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, who have stepped up suicide bombings and other attacks over the past year.

Suicide bombings were virtually unheard of in Afghanistan before U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. But the number of attacks has surged in recent months, especially in the south, where NATO troops have been deploying as the American military reduces its 19,000-strong force in Afghanistan to 16,500 troops this year.

Karzai told reporters yesterday in Kabul that he plans to visit Pakistan on Feb. 15 for two days of talks in Islamabad, where the Afghan leader said he would discuss the continuing attacks.

Following largely peaceful elections for the Afghan parliament in October, Karzai insisted there was no longer a "serious terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan." He added that the anti-terror effort should "now concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supplies to them, on the money coming to them."

Karzai did not name any country, but other Afghan officials have repeatedly said that the militants are trained in Pakistan. Karzai said yesterday that he needs Pakistan's cooperation to end the violence.

Paul Watson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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