32 Taliban fighters killed in clashes in southern Afghanistan, Defense Ministry says

KABUL, Afghanistan: Clashes in southern Afghanistan in recent days have killed 32 militants, including two Taliban commanders, officials said.

Separately, a remote-controlled roadside bomb hit a police convoy Thursday in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, killing a policeman and wounding four others, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

Also in Helmand, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops fought Wednesday with militants north of Musa Qala, leaving 30 suspected Taliban fighters dead, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Coalition aircraft bombed militant hide-outs during the five-hour battle, it said.

The coalition said 11 militants were detained and 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of heroin were confiscated during the operation, but it did not report any casualties. The Defense Ministry claim of 30 deaths could not be independently verified.

A large weapons cache and a heroin processing lab were also destroyed, the coalition said.

Taliban militants were in control of Musa Qala for much of 2007 before Afghan, U.S. and British troops regained control of the town and its surrounding areas in December.

Helmand is the world’s largest opium-producing region, and officials estimate that up to 40 percent of proceeds from Afghanistan’s drug trade are used to fund the insurgency.

On Monday, Afghan and NATO-led troops attacked and killed regional Taliban commanders Mullah Abdul Matin and Mullah Karim Agha, who were responsible for a number of suicide bombing missions in Helmand, the alliance said Thursday.

“As a result of this successful attack, the Taliban’s networks have suffered another severe setback,” said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

The Taliban did not immediately confirm the deaths.

Elsewhere in Helmand, an explosion killed one British soldier and wounded another Wednesday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement issued in London.

The blast hit a British patrol that was trying to disrupt Taliban activity, the ministry said, adding that the cause of the explosion was not immediately known.

In neighboring Kandahar province, authorities detained seven men suspected of involvement in the suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people Sunday at a dog fight in the provincial capital, Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said.

Afghan intelligence agents rounded up the suspects Wednesday in two separate operations in Kandahar city and in Arghandab district to the north, Khalid said.

Insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan killed more than 6,500 people in 2007 — the deadliest year since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, according to a tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials. Most of those killed were insurgents.

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