ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan and NATO-led troops have killed some 50 Taliban fighters surrounded in a district close to the main southern city of Kandahar, the provincial police chief said on Wednesday.
Fighting has surged across Afghanistan in the past week as Taliban insurgents and Afghan government and foreign forces attempt to consolidate positions before the onset of winter.
Taliban fighters moved into the Arghandab district, only some 12 km (8 miles) from Kandahar, last week after a pro-government tribal leader who held the area died of a heart attack two weeks ago leaving the northern approach to Kandahar exposed.
Afghan army and troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) launched an operation around Arghandab this week to wrest back control of the area, local officials said.
Some 50 Taliban have been killed in the fighting around Arghandab since Monday and Tuesday and at least another 25 have been wounded, said Kandahar police chief Sayed Agha Saqib. But some 200 to 250 Taliban insurgents were still in the area.
“The rest of the Taliban are surrounded and they cannot escape or be reinforced,” he told Reuters.
Three Afghan police and one Afghan army soldier have also been killed in the fighting, he said.
The sound of loud explosions could be heard from the small town of Arghandab and at least 20 trucks of villagers were seen leaving the area of the fighting with their belongings.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said insurgents had captured seven checkpoints around Arghandab and inflicted large numbers of casualties on Afghan and foreign troops.
Mainly Canadian forces around Kandahar have been engaged in heavy fighting mainly to the west of city, the Taliban’s de-facto capital when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 till 2001.
But the death of tribal leader Mullah Naqib two weeks ago left a gap in their defences, security analysts said.
To the north of Kandahar, Afghan and ISAF troops are also been engaged in a much larger operation in Uruzgan province, but there were few details available on the progress of the fighting.
U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan forces backed by air power killed “several” Taliban fighters in Uruzgan on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S.-led coalition forces killed some 30 Taliban, including two commanders, in an airstrike in the Gilan district of Ghazni province on Tuesday, Mahbubullah Mazlum, the district chief told Reuters.
The U.S. military said “several” insurgents had been killed in the area, southwest of the capital Kabul, after coalition troops came under fire during a search operation on Tuesday.
After their heavy defeat in late 2001, the Taliban quietly regrouped as U.S. political and military leaders “took their eyes off the ball” to concentrate on Iraq, security analysts say, and relaunched their insurgency two years ago.
The last two years have been the bloodiest in Afghanistan since 2001, with some 7,000 people killed.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan in Kandahar, Saeed Ali Achakzai in Spin Boldak and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul