Afghanistan battle kills '150 insurgents' says Nato

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The Independent Online

Nato said today that up to 150 insurgents were killed in an eastern Afghanistan battle after two large groups of fighters crossed the border from Pakistan.

The fighters were attacked with ground fire and airstrikes, Nato said. Gen Murad Ali, the Afghan army regional deputy corps commander, said the insurgents had travelled into Paktika province with several trucks carrying ammunition.

A Nato statement said "initial battle damage estimates" indicated that as many as 150 fighters were killed. Ali said more than 50 fighters were killed overnight. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, estimated the toll at 80.

Independent confirmation of the death toll was not immediately possible at the remote battle site.

Azimi said one Pakistani fighter was wounded and captured. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns were also recovered, he said.

Taliban militants last year launched a record number of attacks, and an estimated 4,000 people died in insurgency-related violence - the bloodiest year since the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The fight in Paktika province's Bermel district was the first major engagement of 2007, and appeared to be the largest battle since a multi-day operation killed more than 500 suspected Taliban fighters in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province in September.

Nato did not say how it estimated that 150 fighters were killed. In early December, Nato said it had killed 70-80 fighters in Helmand province - but days later, it said that only seven or eight were killed.

In the southern province of Helmand, meanwhile, Nato forces called in airstrikes on Taliban positions during a clash in the village of Gereshk yesterday, said a local police chief, Ghulam Nabi Mulahkhail.

Among those killed was a local Taliban group commander identified as Mullah Faqir Mohammad, the police official said. One Afghan soldier was wounded and evacuated to a Nato medical facility, the alliance said in a statement.

The troops recovered weapons and ammunition in the militant compound following the operation, the statement said.