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US Says 136 Taleban Killed in Western Afghanistan

U.S. and Afghan officials say they have inflicted serious losses on Taleban insurgents in recent days. VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

Coalition officials say they killed at least 136 Taleban militants during three days of intense fighting in the western Afghan province of Herat.

U.S. Army Major Chris Belcher says coalition forces including U.S. special forces and Afghan national police targeted Taleban insurgents in the remote Zerkoh Valley region.

Local villagers south of the provincial capital accused the coalition forces of killing civilians. The fighting sparked massive anti-U.S. and anti-government protests in the province, which is typically considered relatively secure and stable.

Belcher says the attacks included air support, but he says every precaution was taken to prevent injury to innocent civilians, and no such injuries were reported.

Speaking by phone from Afghanistan, Belcher said the bulk of the Taleban casualties occurred in fighting on Sunday.

"A total of seven enemy positions were destroyed and 87 Taleban fighters were killed during the 14-hour engagement," he said.

He says U.S. and Afghan forces also killed 49 insurgents in the same valley two days earlier.

One U.S. soldier was reported killed in the fighting there on Friday.

Insurgents, meanwhile, are also under pressure in the southern province of Helmand, where NATO-led forces are advancing deep inside the Taleban's traditional stronghold in the lower Sangin Valley.

More than 2,000 NATO and Afghan forces launched Operation Silicon there on Monday - part of an ongoing operation that started nearly two-months ago in an attempt to regain control over strategic parts of Helmand province.

Helmand is considered a key battleground in the fight to control Afghanistan.

It is the country's largest producer of opium, and Afghan authorities say the Taleban are now major players in the illegal drug trade.

Drug enforcement officers say the insurgents are managing vast portions of the billion-dollar industry, which produces 90 percent of the world's heroin.

The authorities say that more than five years after being driven from power by U.S.-led forces, the Taleban is using its drug money to purchase new weapons and hire fresh fighters.