KABUL: Afghan troops and NATO war jets pounded insurgents during a "fierce battle" in southern Afghanistan, killing 17 rebels, the defence ministry said Sunday.

The weekend fighting erupted after rebels fired several mortars at an Afghan army position in the southern province of Zabul, a known Taliban hotspot, the ministry said in a statement.

"Afghan troops were dispatched after the enemy position was identified and a very fierce battle took place," it said.

"During the battle, which was backed by international forces' air support and lasted for one hour, 17 terrorists were killed," the statement said, adding that another militant wounded in the fighting was captured.

Militants, mainly remnants of the Taliban regime, have been waging an insurgency to overthrow the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai since they were ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

The insurgency has intensified each year since then, with 2009 now the deadliest for Afghan security forces and their international military backers who have deployed more than 100,000 troops to defeat the rebellion.