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Large Taliban Attack Repulsed with Air Strikes

By Steve Herman

Kabul

12 October 2008

Two battles in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan have killed as many as 100 Taliban fighters, according to Afghan and international military officials. The NATO-led forces say the bulk of the casualties came when their aircraft bombed militants who were observed gathering for a major attack. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kabul.

It is believed to be one of the fiercest encounters in months in Afghanistan's main opium-producing province. Taliban fighters, armed with rockets and other heavy weapons, attacked the city of Lashkar Gar from three sides. But military officials say the insurgents were repulsed by air strikes conducted by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army General David McKiernan is the top commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

"A large number of insurgents, in the hundreds, were detected and were acted upon by a combined operation, a partnered operation, between Task Force Helmand and the Afghan National Army . I know a large number of insurgents have been killed," McKiernan said. "I have not heard reports of civilian collateral damage or civilian casualties."

British forces, which primarily operate in Helmand, say 50 Taliban were killed. Afghan officials put the number at 62.

A second clash, which lasted for three days and ended Saturday, in the same region, is reported to have killed dozens more militants.

The battles took place in Helmand province, where the Taliban have regrouped and established links to other extremists and the illicit narcotics trade.

Thousands of Afghans, mostly Taliban and other militants, have died this year in insurgency-related fighting.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul Sunday, General McKiernan says the measures being taken by U.S. and other international forces to prevent civilian casualties are unprecedented in the history of warfare.

"What I am worried about mostly though is we will lose the support of the population over time with civilian casualties. And so I am very aware of that and very sensitive of that," McKiernan said.

The four-star general also is blasting media reports saying the war is being lost against the Taliban. While acknowledging that the current number of soldiers is inadequate and combat forces alone cannot achieve victory, General McKiernan emphasized that the Afghan military and 40-nation coalition is "not losing in Afghanistan.



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