KABUL (Reuters) – More than 60 Taliban militants and a soldier from the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan were killed in fighting in the southern Helmand province on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.
An Afghan National Army unit, accompanied by coalition forces, repelled an initial attack from insurgents and then called for artillery and air support when Taliban reinforcements arrived from the nearby village of Musa Qalah.
“The initial estimate by the ground force commander assessed that more than 61 insurgents were killed in the engagement,” the U.S. military said in a statement. “One Coalition service member was killed and four others were wounded.”
Helmand, a long fertile river valley cutting through parched barren desert, has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan since the Taliban recovered from their 2001 defeat and resumed large-scale attacks two years ago.
Musa Qala was the scene of heavy fighting last year between British forces in the town and besieging Taliban fighters until British troops pulled out in a deal under which tribal elders took control and agreed to keep the Taliban out.
But the rebels returned in February and have set up a shadow government with their own administrators, courts and officials. Now coalition forces are trying to reassert control.
“This combined operation is just one more step to securing the Musa Qalah area of the Helmand province,” the U.S. military said.
Also on Tuesday, the commander for the southern town of Spin Boldak, on the border with Pakistan, said a suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle into an Afghan border police convoy.
The commander, Abdul Razaaq, survived the attack. Taliban guerrillas claimed responsibility
I am fine, but five of my guards have been killed and four have been wounded,” Razaaq told Reuters by phone.
Earlier, a police official in the southern province of Kandahar said the bomber was driving a car and that three people had been wounded.
The convoy was traveling through Spin Boldak, about 4 km (2 miles) from the border with Pakistan, when the bomber struck outside the district police headquarters.
Southern Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence during the past year-and-a-half, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign forces.
More than 7,000 people have been killed during the past 19 months, the bloodiest period since the Taliban government was overthrown by Afghan and U.S.-led forces in 20