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7 Killed in Afghan Fighting

June 20, 2004|From Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents attacked a government office in southern Afghanistan, sparking a gunfight with Afghan troops that killed seven people, police said Saturday.

Just to the north, the U.S. military said two American soldiers were wounded and their Afghan interpreter killed when their vehicle hit a land mine.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai sent troops to the town of Chaghcharan in Ghor province, about 225 miles west of Kabul, the capital. The town was overrun Thursday by a group of local warlords, forcing out the governor and the provincial security chiefs.

Ghulam Jailiani, the deputy police chief in Zabol province, said the gunfight in the south occurred late Friday when 60 Taliban attacked a government office in the town of Mizan, about 230 miles southwest of Kabul.

Five attackers and two Afghan soldiers died in the two-hour clash, which ended when a U.S. helicopter appeared and drove the Taliban away, Jailiani said.

Three Afghan soldiers were wounded and taken to a U.S. base for treatment. They were part of a force of 50 Afghan soldiers defending the office.

Jailiani said authorities had recovered a satellite telephone, walkie-talkies and weapons left behind by the Taliban, who retreated to nearby mountains.

The two American soldiers were wounded Thursday night when their vehicle struck a mine about 30 miles north of Qalat, Zabol's capital, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said.

"It did result in an interpreter being killed and two soldiers wounded," Mansager said.

The soldiers were in stable condition at the U.S. base in the southern city of Kandahar, he said.

He didn't identify any of the three victims.

The attacks showed that militants were still operating in the Zabol region, despite U.S. claims of killing more than 80 rebels since May 25.

The military has claimed that the operation, led by a 2,000-strong contingent of Marines, is helping stabilize the region so that voters can register for national elections scheduled for September.

But U.N. voter registration teams have yet to enter many remote parts of the south and east. Two British contractors for the United Nations were killed in May in the deadliest in a string of attacks on election workers.

Meanwhile, about 200 Afghan troops were on their way to Chaghcharan by road from the western city of Herat, and 500 more would follow soon, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zahir Azimi said.

Ousted officials have said at least 10 people were killed when Chaghcharan was overrun, but authorities in Kabul said they knew of no confirmed casualties. The U.S. military sent a B1-B bomber over the city to calm the fighting while it evacuated U.N. staff by helicopter.

Azimi said the troops were dispatched for fear of "more problems in the future."

The fighting came after weeks of tension between the Kabul-appointed military and police chiefs and rival commanders over the distribution of power within the local government.

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