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US Military: Expect Significant Fighting in Southern Afghanistan


U.S.-led coalition forces say an on-going offensive in Southern Afghanistan has claimed the lives of at least 20 more insurgents. U.S. military commanders say "significant fighting" in the region could continue for several months.

Afghan officials say coalition forces surprised a meeting of Taleban insurgents in a remote mountain village in Helmand Province.

After a three-hour gunfight Tuesday, military commanders say they recovered 20 bodies from the scene, along with dozens of machine guns and at least seven rocket-propelled grenades.

More than 10,000 coalition soldiers are sweeping through four key southern provinces comprising the insurgents' traditional stronghold.

The offensive, dubbed Operation Mountain Thrust, is the coalition's largest since 2001. It follows a sharp rise in insurgent attacks in recent months, and is aimed at re-establishing government control over the region.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Tom Collins says more than 90 militants have been killed since the operation intensified last week. He told reporters in Kabul that heavy fighting is expected to continue for several more months.

"Clearly the enemy is resisting the coalition and Afghan national army's efforts to push into areas that they have not previously operated in," he said. "My point in bringing up that part is that it does not matter how hard the enemy fights, they are going to lose, we are going to push into these areas, and we are going to do what is right for the people."

Afghan authorities say more than 500 people, mostly militants, have died since the Taleban launched its own, so-called, summer offensive earlier this year.

The violence comes as NATO prepares to take over security operations in the South from U.S. troops later this year.

NATO commanders say they will double the number of troops operating in the troubled region, and will also expand humanitarian relief and development projects throughout the southern provinces.