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15 Suspected Taleban Fighters Killed in Afghanistan Clashes - 2003-09-15

The U.S. military says coalition forces in Afghanistan killed an estimated 15 insurgent fighters in a night-time clash.

Afghan militia and government troops, along with their U.S. allies, engaged the force of suspected Taleban loyalists in the southeast Kandahar Province.

The area was once the stronghold of the former Taleban regime, ousted by its Afghan opponents and U.S. forces in late 2001.

It borders Zabul province, which during the past month has seen some of the most intense fighting since the fall of the Taleban. The coalition troops involved in the battle are currently staging an offensive in the region, dubbed Operation Mountain Viper, in an effort to root out Taleban positions.

"Mountain Viper" appears to have taken a heavy toll on the Taleban and other insurgents, including remnants of the al-Qaida terror network and troops commanded by rebel warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Since the operation began on August 30, the U.S. military estimates 100 insurgents have been killed.

But Afghan-based U.S. military spokesman Sergeant-Major Harry Sarles says a high body count is not the prime objective.

He cites a similar campaign in provinces farther to the north, called Operation Warrior Sweep, which saw very few insurgent deaths.

"We do not measure success only by the number of anti-coalition forces killed in action," he said. "In Warrior Sweep we had great success in eliminating the influence of anti-coalition forces, even though there were a relatively few number of enemy KIA [killed in action]."

The insurgents have recently increased attacks on Afghan police and military targets in the area. Some observers say the rise in such attacks is due to the Taleban seeking to take up secure positions before winter weather, when passage to and from their mountain bases will become extremely difficult.