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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 20:27 GMT 21:27 UK
UK soldiers 'killed 21 Taleban'
Up to 70 Taleban fighters ambushed the British troops

Twenty-one Taleban fighters have been killed in a clash with British soldiers in southern Afghanistan, the BBC has been told.

The six-hour battle took place in the southern province of Helmand on Sunday.

Reports say the troops came under fire from the militants when they were on a routine search operation.

British troops have recently begun setting up bases in Helmand. They are part of an expanded Nato deployment in southern Afghanistan.

The fighting took place in the village of Nowzad. Earlier, British officials said only five Taleban had been killed.

In other fighting, the Afghan army says it killed 13 militants in the central province of Uruzgan on Friday.

Counter-insurgency role

The BBC's Paul Wood in Helmand says the British soldiers were jumping off helicopters when they came under fire. No British soldier was injured in the fighting.

Map of Afghanistan

Afghan soldiers also fought along with British troops.

British commanders say it is significant that the Taleban stood and fought and that they earned the grudging respect of the parachute regiment soldiers.

According to British sources, the Afghan police fired indiscriminately putting civilians at risk and when confronted by the Taleban they broke and ran.

Our correspondent says the incident shows that the British army is involved in an active counter insurgency campaign in Helmand, not just in reconstruction work.

One of the main reasons behind the deployment of 3,300 British troops in the province is to help the newly-formed Afghan National Army (ANA) fight the increasingly violent militant groups based around the Pakistan border and curb the drugs trade that funds them.

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Helmand produces nearly 20% of the world's opium.

The Taleban in Helmand have been promising the locals protection for their poppy fields against the poppy eradication programmes - in return for support for their attacks against Western troops.

In February, nearly 16 militants were killed in a battle between Afghan troops and Taleban fighters in Helmand.

'Two Pakistanis'

On Friday the Afghan army said it had engaged with presumed Taleban fighters in Uruzgan province, killing 13 of the militants.

"Among the 13 bodies on the site, two are Pakistani nationals," army commander General Rahmatullah Raufi told the AFP news agency. "They have Pakistani ID cards."

The fighting took place near the city of Tirin Kot.




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