Afghan and U.S-led coalition forces are said to have killed up to 100 insurgents in an ongoing operation in southern Afghanistan aimed at eliminating rebel safe havens.
The fighting in a mountainous district of Kandahar province broke out earlier this week. Afghan officials say some important rebel leaders are among scores of militants killed in one of the bloodiest setbacks for the former Taleban regime since its removal from power in late 2001.
Afghan officials in Kabul say the military operation is continuing, and a number of Taleban commanders have been surrounded, while up to 15 insurgents have been detained. Several members of the Afghan security forces are also reported killed in the fighting.
U.S military officials say "Operation Catania" will continue until "enemy safe havens" are eliminated from the area. They have confirmed that at least five U.S soldiers have been wounded.
The latest fighting and increasing guerilla attacks in Afghanistan have raised security concerns for parliamentary elections to be held in September. The insurgents also have targeted election officials working for the joint Afghan-U.N electoral body.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul Thursday, a spokesman for the election organization, Sultan Ahmed Baheen, condemned an attack earlier this week on one of its convoys transporting election material in the Kandahar region.
"Mr. Abdul Khaliq was killed when a vehicle drove past the convoy and opened fire on the security vehicles. The driver was wounded in the attack," he said.
Thousands of mostly American troops in the U.S-led coalition are pursuing the militants along with Afghan forces, but have been unable so far to end the insurgency.
Afghan and U.S officials complain that the rebels have found sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, and have criticized the Pakistani government for not chasing them actively. On Tuesday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf telephoned his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, to assure him of his full support in the war on terrorism.