Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 10:28 UK

Taleban raid on key Afghan town

Masked Taleban militants pose for a photographer in Wardak province, September 2008
Taleban militants have become increasingly daring in their attacks

At least 18 Taleban militants have been killed while attacking a police checkpoint in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, officials say.

Police say dozens of insurgents took part in the attack - the second major assault on Lashkar Gah this week.

At least six policemen died in fighting elsewhere in the area, officials say.

On Tuesday, UN special envoy Kai Eide said attacks on troops, civilians and aid workers in Afghanistan were at their highest level for six years.

'Worrying development'

Provincial police chief Assadullah Sherzad said that three policemen were also wounded in the latest fighting around Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, which took place on Tuesday.

He said the authorities had been able to recover the body of only one militant because the others had been carried away by their fighters.

British troops in Helmand  province
Nato-led troops battle almost daily with Taleban fighters in Helmand

On Sunday Afghan and UK officials said that dozens of Taleban insurgents died in a battle with Afghan and Nato-led forces on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah.

There is no independent confirmation of the figures given by officials, and the Taleban have not commented on the latest clashes.

Correspondents say that Lashkar Gah - about 550km (340 miles) south-west of Kabul - is the capital of the world's largest opium producing region and is also a major government centre which the insurgents are keen to target.

They say that such large-scale attacks on major towns have been rare since the US-led invasion of 2001, so the latest offensives on Lashkar Gah may be a worrying development for Nato and US-led troops.

Mr Eide told the UN Security Council in New York that heavily armed insurgents were now operating beyond strongholds of the Taleban insurgents in the south and east and the fighting was unlikely to abate over the winter.

Many militants cross the porous borders to Pakistan but the UN says there has been a significant improvement in relations between Kabul and Islamabad over ways of preventing terrorism.

Afghanistan's UN Ambassador, Zahir Tanin, said that the security situation had deteriorated but he cautioned news organisations against overstating negative developments.

The Taleban, he said, has used "some recent statements and reports" in an attempt to convince the Afghan population that the international community's resolve was wavering.

Earlier this month, the UK's commander in Afghanistan, Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, told a British newspaper: "We're not going to win this war."

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