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Afghanistan Offensive Kills 30 Suspected Militants


Senior Afghan officials say they have killed or arrested dozens of suspected militants in the latest operation against insurgents they fear could disturb next week's elections. Officials also now say an incident they earlier had described as an assassination attempt against the defense minister was not aimed at him.

A Defense Ministry spokesman says the arrests were made as part of a military operation carried out by the Afghan army, working with coalition forces in southern Helmand province.

General Mohammed Zahir Azimi says 30 enemy fighters were killed, three were wounded and 45 others were arrested. Also, security forces seized a large quantity of arms and ammunition.

General Azimi told reporters on Sunday that, of those arrested, 15 were determined not to be Taleban or enemy forces, so they were released.

The operation is the latest in a series of recent offensives by Afghan and coalition forces, intended to help shore up security ahead of the September 18 parliamentary and provincial council elections.

Remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban government have threatened to disrupt the polls, which are the latest step in Afghanistan's process of forming a democratic government after a quarter century of war.

Senior Afghan and U.S. officials have said it is highly likely that there will be violent incidents on voting day. But most say the threat is not enough to force a delay in the polls, or to damage the overall success of the election.

Fresh concerns were raised about security when officials reported Saturday that Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak escaped an assassination attempt at the Kabul airport.

The defense minister had already left the airport by helicopter when gunmen reportedly opened fire on his car.

General Azimi said Sunday that the incident was not an assassination attempt. Rather, the minister's car was caught in the crossfire when two groups of feuding Afghan soldiers opened fire on each other. No one was injured, and nine soldiers have been arrested.

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