65 killed in Afghan clash

Associated Press

Kabul, June 22:

American warplanes pounded a suspected Taliban safe haven in the mountainsides of southern Afghanistan in an assault that left up to 60 insurgents and five policemen dead and five US soldiers wounded, officials said today.

Two American CH-47 helicopters were damaged during 11 hours of fighting yesterday at a rebel “safe haven”, a US military statement said. One made an emergency landing before it was repaired, while the other managed to fly back to a nearby coalition base.

US military spokesman Lt Col Jerry O’Hara said about 40 rebels had been killed, but Gen Salim Khan, commander of about 400 Afghan policemen who also took part in the fighting, said his men had recovered the bodies of 60 suspected insurgents. Some 30 militants were captured, including eight who were wounded, he said.

Khan said that in addition to the five slain Afghan police officers, three were injured in the gunbattle on the border between Kandahar and Zabul. “There are hundreds of Taliban in camps in the mountains. My officers have been spotting them and then the information is used by the American aircraft to bomb them,” Khan said. “Many of the rebels have started to flee the area.”

The military statement said, “Coalition warplanes and attack helicopters were hammering enemy positions throughout the evening.” O’Hara said the “operation to go after enemy safe havens is ongoing. We are not letting up on the enemy and will continue to pursue them until the fighting stops. Coalition and Afghan forces will continue to defeat these militants for as long as necessary to ensure the people of Afghanistan remain free of oppression and tyranny.” The names of the US wounded were withheld pending notification of their families.

Suspected Taliban rebels also attacked Afghan soldiers in the Mizan yesterday and an ensuing firefight left three of the troops and three insurgents wounded, said official Rahmatullah Khan.

Three months of bloodshed has left hundreds dead and sparked fears the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down. US and Afghan officials warn things could get worse ahead of landmark parliamentary elections scheduled for September.