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Militants Intensify Attacks in Afghanistan's Southern Provinces

U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have killed more than 60 militants in recent clashes as warmer weather invites increased rebel activity.

For three days this week, U.S. planes and helicopters engaged insurgents in Southern Afghanistan.

The U.S. military claims at least 60 supporters of the former Taleban government were killed in the fighting, some of the heaviest since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taleban in 2001.

Nine Afghan soldiers and one policeman were also killed in the clashes, which took place in Kandahar and Zabul Provinces.

Military officials say the Taleban has stepped up its attacks recently with the coming of warmer weather.

Coalition forces claim to have killed more than 100 suspected rebels in the past month.

Coalition spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore says the increased fighting is the result of a coordinated effort against the insurgents.

"This is evidence of the coalition and Afghan National Army working together with the Afghan people to deny sanctuary to the Taleban," said Cindy Moore.

The insurgents still maintain a powerful presence in the South, launching periodic attacks against local and international security forces.

But Government officials say they are increasingly confident the Taleban remnants will be defeated.

Several senior insurgents reportedly broke ranks and joined a new government amnesty program last week. And the Taleban's former foreign minister, Mullah Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakil, publicly advised remaining militants to enter peace talks with the Afghan government.

Omar Zakhilwal, a government advisor who helps coordinate the country's rural development programs, says one reason for the turnaround is a loss of public support.

"The Taleban is not a popular force anymore," she said. "At [one] time they were supported because there was no alternative. Right now peace is the alternative, and peace is what they [the Afghan people] want."

But international observers warn the stakes are increasingly high with parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Security, especially in the South, is a primary concern for election organizers.

U.S. and NATO forces are expected to intensify their operations in the months leading up the September vote.