NATO says 55 insurgents, one NATO soldier killed during firefight in southern Afghanistan

Monday, October 30th 2006, 2:21 pm
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ NATO troops fought a six-hour battle with insurgents in southern Afghanistan Monday in a firefight that left 55 militants and one NATO soldier dead, the Western alliance said.

Twenty militants also were wounded in the fight in the Daychopan district of Zabul province, NATO said. The nationality of the dead NATO soldier was not released, though many of the Western troops in Zabul are American.

The battle came on the heels of another major fight between militants and NATO and Afghan troops Saturday in neighboring Uruzgan province in which 70 insurgents were killed after they attacked a military base north of Tarin Kowt.

Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said troops in southern Afghanistan are moving into areas where insurgents are active in order to set security conditions to allow reconstruction and development.

``We're not going to get fixated on a scoreboard tally of insurgents killed,'' he said. ``What's more important is getting an accountable government in place.''

NATO and Afghan troops are pressing ahead with a new joint offensive called Operation Eagle, aimed at keeping pressure on the Taliban through the fall and winter and to pave the way for long-promised development after the harshest fighting since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban.

The 32,000-strong NATO-led force took command of security operations in all of Afghanistan last month and has been battling resurgent Taliban militants in the south and east.

In eastern Afghanistan, a clash between insurgents and NATO-led troops in Kunar province on Sunday left three soldiers wounded, Knittig said. He did not disclose their nationalities, but most troops in the area are American as well.

Canada's top general in Afghanistan, meanwhile, said Taliban fighters would likely continue their ``cowardly'' attacks against women and children through the use of suicide and roadside bombs.

``Ultimately they will have to explain to the people themselves why they are attacking the people in a completely cowardly way,'' Brig. Gen. David Fraser told The Associated Press in an interview.

Fraser has been the commander of about 9,500 NATO forces _ primarily British, Canadian and Dutch troops _ in southern Afghanistan since July 31. On Wednesday, he transfers power to Dutch Maj. Gen. Ton Van Loon, who will command six southern provinces for six months.

Fraser said the September offensive called Operation Medusa in Kandahar's Panjwayi district has improved security there. NATO has said more than 500 Taliban fighters were killed in that operation.

``There is more traffic on Highway 1 than before,'' he said. ``The people of Kandahar city are going about their lives in a more secure way than they did before Medusa.''

But violence is still flaring in Panjwayi. Last week, fighting between NATO troops and Taliban fighters left dozens dead, including between 30 and 80 civilians, according to Afghan officials. NATO has said its initial reports found that 12 civilians and between 50 and 70 militant fighters were killed.

Fraser said violence will continue in the region as the government expands. He said he regretted any civilian casualties.

``The Taliban is using people here as human shields,'' he said. ``The Taliban are using the houses of the people. Unfortunately and regrettably, from time to time, when the Taliban get that close, as much as we try there will be casualties.''