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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Dozens of Taleban fighters killed
Taleban fighters
Fighting is taking place as troops move into Taleban strongholds
Dozens of Taleban fighters have been killed in clashes with Nato-led troops and Afghan security forces in southern Afghanistan, local officials say.

About 70 militants were killed in battles in an area south-west of Kandahar city, local police said.

However a purported Taleban spokesman said only 12 fighters were killed.

Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest period since the fall of the Taleban in 2001. Much of the fighting has been concentrated in the south.

On Sunday, a British soldier was killed in the north of the volatile Helmand province.

This came a day after four US soldiers and an Afghan soldier were killed in clashes in the south and east.

'Good intelligence'

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) spokesman Major Scott Lundy said Sunday's clashes happened as part of operations to ensure the Kabul to Kandahar highway was kept secure.

We know the Taleban is operating in that area, but we dealt them a severe blow
Isaf's Major Scott Lundy

"We had good intelligence which suggested that we should move into the Panjwayi area, and when we did move up, we encountered a significant number of Taleban," Maj Lundy said.

"There were a number of engagements throughout the evening last night, and into the morning that resulted in heavy losses for the Taleban." He said no Isaf casualties were suffered in the engagement, which included the use of air strikes and artillery.

He said he could not confirm the number of Taleban killed, but said the Afghan authorities had made their own assessment and he had "no reason to doubt" their figures.

"We know the Taleban is operating in that area, but we dealt them a severe blow, and we're continuing our operations."

'Air support'

Isaf, under the umbrella of Nato, recently took over responsibility for security in the southern provinces.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Kabul says Nato-led forces have faced considerable resistance as they push out into towns that were previously Taleban strongholds.

Local officials said at least 100 Taleban fighters staged an attack in the Panjwayi area, about 35km (20 miles) from Kandahar late on Saturday.

Nato aircraft were called in to support Afghan police and army troops and Nato soldiers.

Map of Afghanistan

The bodies of the dead Taleban are reported to have been found in three locations, scattered through orchards alongside their weapons.

"So far, we've recovered the bodies of 72 Taliban," district governor Neyaz Mohammad Sarhadi said, quoted by AP news agency

But a man claiming to be a Taleban spokesman in Kandahar denied the scale of losses, saying 12 militants had been killed.

At least four members of the Afghan security forces were also reported to have been killed.

The latest violence came as the country celebrated 87 years of independence from Britain, which never fully colonised the nation but controlled its foreign affairs for years until 1919.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Details of the clashes in the Kandahar province





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