40 ‘militants’ killed in Afghan battle, bombing

UK troops pull out of troubled district in south

Kabul, October 17:

British troops pulled out of a troubled district in southern Afghanistan today, while a US-led coalition airstrike killed a suspected midlevel Taliban commander and up to 15 other militants, NATO said. The Afghan army also said it battled insurgents today near the eastern border with Pakistan, in a clash that left 24 suspected militants and one soldier dead, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The two sides fought with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns in the Barmal district of eastern Paktika province for nearly five hours, said ministry spokesman Gen Mohammed Zair Azimi.

The decision to withdraw the British troops from Helmand province’s Musa Qala district follows an agreement with tribal elders and the provincial governor, said Mark Laity, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai also supported the move, he said.

The troops left “because of the sustained period of calm,” Laity said, adding that Afghan security forces answerable to the Afghan government would now be in charge of security there. “There has not been any contact with the Taliban and they are not involved in this.” Musa Qala has been one of the most volatile regions of Helmand, where about 4,000 British troops who deployed to the province in the spring have met with stiffer resistance than expected from resurgent Taliban militants.

That resistance has eased a little in recent weeks, but the Taliban have kept up a steady stream of suicide attacks, as the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan since the Islamic militia’s ouster from power five years ago rumbles on.

Three 500-pound bombs, meanwhile, were dropped on a compound in the Khod Valley of southern Uruzgan province, in support of a NATO-led operation targeting a group of militants who had previously ambushed NATO and Afghan troops, an alliance statement said.

The strike killed a suspected midlevel Taliban commander and up to 15 other suspected militants, statement said. No civilians were hurt or neighbouring buildings damaged, it said. NATO did not name the suspected Taliban commander.

Italian scribe fine

ROME: An Italian photojournalist kidnapped last week in Afghanistan has told the Emergency aid agency by phone that he was “doing well,” the Italian organisation PeaceReporter reported on its website on Tuesday. “I am doing well, we have changed zones,” Gabriel Torsello said on Monday night, speaking to someone in Emergency’s office in the southern Afghan town of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province. Torsello also called the same person last Thursday, the day he was abducted, to announce that the kidnapping had taken place. — AFP