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Afghan, NATO Forces Kill More than 50 Taliban in South

By Daniel Schearf
12 December 2007

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says Afghan and NATO forces have killed more than 50 Taliban fighters after they fled from the southern Afghan town of Musa Qala. Afghan and NATO forces re-took the town after months of Taliban control, but a NATO spokesman says they will likely still face resistance from the Taliban. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

The Defense Ministry says Afghan military forces, backed up by NATO air support, killed the Taliban fighters during a two-day battle in Sangin, a town just south of Musa Qala.

The Taliban were attempting a counter-attack from Sangin after thousands of Afghan and NATO soldiers forced them to flee Musa Qala this week during several days of heavy fighting.

Major Charles Anthony is deputy spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. He says even though the Taliban's counter-attack failed, the area is not yet fully secure and more fighting is likely.

"We believe there will be continued pockets of resistance by Taliban in Musa Qala," he said. "We have met a few small pockets of resistance, but clearly the situation has stabilized for the most part. Clearly most of the Taliban fled Musa Qala for other areas including Sangin."

Musa Qala and Sangin are in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, which produces half the world's opium supply.

The Taliban had controlled Musa Qala since February after British forces turned security over to local elders in a controversial deal that quickly fell apart.

Musa Qala was the only major town controlled by the Taliban and was a center of heroin production. Its recovery is a symbolic victory for the still developing Afghan army and for stretched NATO forces.

But the Islamic militant group still controls other parts of Helmand and continues to launch guerilla and suicide attacks. These have helped make this year the bloodiest in Afghanistan, since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

An estimated 6,000 people have been killed in the past year of fighting.

The offensive to take back Musa Qala began as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Afghanistan last week. He promised more support for Afghan security and economic development.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also visited Afghanistan last week. He told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday that a European envoy to Afghanistan would soon be appointed to oversee aid and reconstruction efforts.

Gates said NATO should provide more troops in Afghanistan to deal with the rising violence.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen also told Congress the U.S. military was stretched because of operations in Iraq.

The United States has 26,000 troops in Afghanistan and about half of them are part of NATO's 40,000-member force. There are 160,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

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