More than 70 reported dead in new Afghan violence

KABUL (AFP) – Major clashes between Taliban and security forces in Afghanistan left nearly 70 rebels dead while an Afghan soldier and a Bangladeshi aid worker were also reported killed, officials said.The deadliest of the incidents on Wednesday was in the province of Uruzgan and kicked off with an ambush on Afghan and coalition troops who called in air support, the US-led coalition said.

“More than 45 insurgents were killed in the engagement,” said the coalition, which operates alongside a separate NATO-led force to defeat an insurgency launched by Taliban after they were driven from government in 2001.

Another 13 militants were killed and six wounded in southern Kandahar province late Wednesday in a 90-minute battle after rebels attacked an Afghan and NATO patrol, provincial police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told AFP.

In the adjoining Zabul province meanwhile, militants attacked another Afghan and NATO convoy the same evening, sparking a battle in which 11 militants were killed, provincial spokesman Gulab Shah Alikhail told AFP.

In the northeastern province of Badakshan meanwhile a Bangladeshi working with a microfinance project was shot dead by unknown gunmen while travelling through a remote area on a motorbike Wednesday, police and his organisation said.

Two men who claimed to be robbers were arrested for the shooting, provincial police commander Aqa Noor Kendoz said, without ruling out the possibility they were linked to the Taliban or other militant groups.

Elsewhere, three mine clearers who were abducted a week ago with 10 colleagues were freed late Wednesday in the southeastern province of Paktia, police said. The 10 were freed Monday.

Officials have not accused any group of the abductions and the Taliban have not claimed responsibility.

However the organisation has carried out similar kidnappings, including that of 23 South Koreans, two of whom were killed before the remainder were released, most after six weeks in captivity.

The latest violence was on the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which started in Afghanistan on Thursday.

The Taliban has said it would use the month to launch a new “operation” involving suicide bombings and other attacks.

Police in the Helmand province capital of Lashkar Gah spotted and shot dead a would-be suicide bomber Thursday, provincial police chief Mohammad Andiwal said.

“NATO forces later helped to removed his explosive vest,” Andiwal said.

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