Afghan and NATO forces say they have killed scores of suspected Taleban insurgents in Southern Afghanistan. Separate clashes also left at least four U.S. soldiers dead in a day of heavy fighting throughout the Taleban's traditional stronghold.
The heaviest fighting erupted late Saturday in the southern province of Kandahar.
The violence comes as NATO forces in the region try to provide greater security for the main highway connecting the region with the rest of country.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, took over security operations three weeks ago in Southern Afghanistan, which remains the Taleban's primary stronghold.
NATO spokesman Major Scott Lundy says heavy artillery and aircraft provided critical support during a series of clashes that lasted throughout the night.
"This is certainly one of the most significant engagements we've had with the Taleban since ISAF took over. There were no ISAF casualties, and Afghan officials have reported that between 60 and 72 Taleban fighters were killed in the engagement," Lundy says.
Local Afghan officials say four policemen and an Afghan soldier were also killed.
The highway is the region's primary commercial link to the rest of country, and is a frequent target of Taleban attacks.
NATO officials say that securing the road is a critical test for ISAF, which is counting on local support to help defeat the Taleban insurgency.
In separate clashes Saturday, four U.S. soldiers were killed during combat operations elsewhere in the country.
U.S. officials say three Americans died after their vehicle hit a roadside bomb, and then came under enemy fire in Kunar province.
And in Uruzgan Province, just north of Kandahar, U.S. officials say an American died in a firefight of nearly four hours with more than 100 insurgents.