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22 Militants Killed in Afghan Clashes

July 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Fighting in a volatile southern Afghan province killed 22 suspected Taliban militants, authorities said.

Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks this year, triggering the worst violence since the hard-line regime's ouster in late 2001 for sheltering Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The bloodshed has raised new fears for Afghanistan's fragile democracy.

The latest clashes, involving Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops and air power, occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in two districts of Helmand province.

Militants attacked a coalition patrol with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in Garmser district on Tuesday, but suffered seven deaths, a coalition statement said.

On Wednesday, five militants were killed and 11 hurt in a battle in Garmser with 200 Afghan police officers, said Ghulam Rasool, a district police chief.

And Tuesday night, 10 more militants were killed and 15 wounded in Musa Qala district by coalition and Afghan forces backed by airstrikes, said Ghulam Nabi Malakhail, Helmand's police chief. No security forces were hurt, officials said.

The recent upsurge in violence has come as about 8,000 NATO troops have been deployed in the south, mostly Britons, Canadians and Dutch, as part of the alliance's expansion across Afghanistan.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization also has troops in Kabul, the capital, and the north and west of the country.

On Wednesday, NATO nations in Brussels gave formal approval for the move into the southern provinces. NATO will take over command of the region from the U.S.-led coalition early next week.

Meanwhile, police Wednesday were questioning four Afghans about the fatal shooting of a Canadian reconstruction worker identified as Mike Frastacky, who was found dead Monday in the northern province of Baghlan.

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