56 rebels killed as Taliban flee Afghan villages (Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 8:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Kandahar, June 19 (DPA) At least 56 Taliban insurgents were killed and dozens wounded as NATO and Afghan forces drove out militants who had recently infiltrated several villages in the southern province of Kandahar, officials said Thursday. More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers and some 300 NATO-led Canadian forces launched an operation in the area Wednesday morning, while the alliance warplanes bombed the rebel targets.

“More than 56 militants were killed and several others were wounded,” General Zahir Azimi, defence ministry spokesman, told a press conference in Kabul. He said most of the dead militants were foreign fighters.

Some 600 Taliban, including foreign fighters, took over villages Sunday night in Arghandab district of the province, posing a threat to Kandahar city, about 20 km to the south.

Azimi said that the district “is totally cleared of the Taliban,” but said the area was strewn with mines planted by the insurgents.

Kandahar provincial governor Assadullah Wednesday said at least 34 militants were killed and more than 60 wounded in the operation in Arghandab and Maiwand districts.

Khalid in a press conference on Thursday morning put the toll for the Taliban to “hundreds dead or wounded.”

Two Afghan soldiers and one civilian were also killed in the operation while three soldiers were wounded, he said.

President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, instructed the provincial official to assist the hundreds of displaced people from Arghandab, who had mostly settled in Kandahar city and its vicinities.

“The Arghandab district was cleared of insurgents today and heavy casualties were inflicted on them,” the president said in a presidential palace statement.

“Most of the militants who attacked the district were foreign terrorists and their servants.”

The president also ordered the authorities in the area to clean the roads and water canals, where Taliban had planted mines.

“Taliban after attacking to several villages in Arghandab district besides planting mines in the area, burned local people’s harvests and destroyed several bridges in the area,” Karzai said.

General Carlos Branco, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said Afghan forces were able to find and dismantle several roadside bombs Wednesday in Kandahar city.

“Kandahar city continues to enjoy relative calm,” he said.

The latest operation also followed a rebel attack on Kandahar city’s main prison late Friday, freeing about 900 inmates including 400 Taliban militants.

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