Authorities in southern Afghanistan said local and foreign troops have killed as many as 60 Taliban militants in the past week, as part of a stepped up anti-insurgency operation. And about 7,000 additional U.S. troops have begun deploying across volatile southern Afghanistan.
Top Afghan security officials said the past week has seen intense fighting in the southern province of Zabul where local and coalition forces have jointly killed dozens of Taliban militants, including some of their key commanders.
Provincial Police Chief General Abdul Rehman Sarjang told VOA that security forces targeted militant hideouts in all the province's districts, and fighting in some areas is still underway.
General Sarjang said Afghan and coalition forces are determined to continue attacking "enemy networks" until they are eliminated from the region. He said the fighting has left two local soldiers dead, while two others are wounded.
The police chief said the bodies of all the militants killed in the fighting were handed over to tribal elders and religious scholars for burial, denying Taliban allegations those killed were civilians.
Zabul and other southern provinces in Afghanistan have seen frequent insurgent attacks targeting local and U.S-led international forces deployed there.
Shortly after taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to be deployed in Afghanistan this year and several thousand of them have already arrived in the country. Regional military commanders said most of the new troops will be deployed in southern provinces to ensure Taliban militants are defeated.
Colonel Greg Julian is a spokesman for U.S forces in Afghanistan.
"Thirty five-hundred [troops] are already on the ground in Kandahar with additional helicopters. 10,000 Marines are beginning to arrive now and will continue to arrive for the next month-and-a-half or so," he said. "And they will be principally located in Helmand but also into Farah. And following that additional 3,500 army troops will arrive into Kandahar and be located into rural areas of that province," he added.
Some of the southern Afghan provinces have direct borders with Pakistan, where militants are believed to have set up bases for cross-border attacks.
Deployment of additional American troops in Afghan border areas has worried Pakistani officials. They have long maintained the militancy in Pakistan has gained strength from insurgents who have been fleeing the U.S-led offensive in Afghanistan and taking refuge in Pakistani border areas.
Pakistani civilian and military leaders said coalition forces must prevent insurgents from crossing the border or it will complicate Pakistan's anti-insurgency efforts.
Speaking Friday in Islamabad, U.S. Special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke assured Pakistani leaders Washington is looking into the issue.
"We are concerned that there may be some spillover effect as there was in the past. And that is one of the issues we have to discuss. But the one thing that is very important is that as the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces operate in the areas near the Pakistani border that the impact on Pakistan be taken into account at all times," he said.
While insurgent attacks have reportedly killed about 70 American soldiers this year, rising numbers of civilian casualties have provoked criticism from the Afghan population and their leaders, particularly President Hamid Karzai in recent months.
U.S leaders said they are concerned about the civilian casualties. The new military commander of the U.S forces in Afghanistan, Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, told U.S lawmakers last week that "the measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.