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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Afghanistan offensive 'kills 48'
US troops taking part in Mountain Thrust exercise
Coalition forces are targeting Taleban strongholds
Afghan and US-led forces have killed at least 48 Taleban militants in heavy overnight fighting in southern Kandahar province, the Afghan army says.

The coalition said two of its soldiers died in the clash in Panjwayi district. Their nationality was not released.

Nearly 200 rebels are reported to have been killed over the last two weeks in the US-led Operation Mountain Thrust.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Helmand Province says it is almost impossible to verify numbers of dead or wounded.

QUICK GUIDE

Our correspondent says it appears from coalition and Afghan army reports that the operation to drive Taleban fighters from the southern provinces is having a major impact on the insurgents.

But he says with Taleban claims and counter-claims, it is also clear that a propaganda war is being fought.

On Sunday, private Pakistani channel Geo television broadcast a message, allegedly from Taleban leader Mullah Omar, saying Afghans would not let others dictate to them.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai has repeated his call for more co-ordination between international troops and tribal and community leaders during counter-insurgency operations,

"Every effort should be made to avoid harm to the civilian population," a statement released on Sunday said.

Air support

In the latest clashes, Taleban fighters opened fire from hidden positions in an orchard in Panjwayi district south-west of the city of Kandahar, said Afghan army commander for the south Gen Rahmatullah Raufi.

"So far we have killed 48 Taleban. The operation is still going on," he told the BBC.

Coalition troops called in helicopter gunships that strafed the area, he added.

A statement from the US military said the two coalition soldiers had died in hospital from injuries sustained in the fighting.

"The enemy fighters attempted to flee the area, but then joined other reinforcements in a nearby compound," it said.

The statement estimated that 45 "extremists" had been killed.

Operation Mountain Thrust involves about 10,000 US, UK, Canadian and Afghan troops in four southern provinces, where violence has soared over the past few months.

A Nato-led force will take over from the coalition in the south at the end of July and the operation is aimed are preparing the ground for this change of command.

The Taleban still has a major influence over many of the districts in the south, as do drugs warlords, our correspondent says.

Military commanders say they were expecting resistance as thousands of troops move out into areas which have simply been out of government control for many years, he adds.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Footage of Operation Mountain Thrust in Afghanistan



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