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Suspected Taleban Fighters Kill 9 Afghan Soldiers, Policemen - 2003-09-01

Suspected Taleban guerrillas have killed at least nine Afghan soldiers and policemen in southern Afghanistan. The raids came in an area where Afghan forces and the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition are attacking rebels.

Local officials say the attacks on the Afghan policemen took place along the highway linking the south with the capital, Kabul. They say a large group of suspected Taleban fighters raided a government checkpoint late Sunday, killing four policemen and taking two captive.

A few hours later, suspected insurgents killed three men guarding a highway construction site in Shajoi region near Zabul province, in southern Afghanistan.

In a third attack, this time in the neighboring province of Uruzgan, officials say two Afghan soldiers and three Taleban fighters were killed in a clash late Sunday.

A U.S. military spokesman says Afghan and U.S.-led Western forces have begun a new offensive in Zabul province to flush out hundreds of Taleban rebels from the mountains in Dai Chopan district. He says coalition warplanes and attack helicopters have supported the week-long ground offensive, which involves mostly Afghan soldiers.

Local military commanders say nearly 100 Taleban militants have been killed in the fighting, many of them in air attacks. At least one American and six Afghan soldiers have also died in the offensive.

Taleban insurgents appear to have re-grouped and increased their attacks against local and foreign troops in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

On Sunday, U.S. military officials said two American soldiers were killed in a clash in eastern Paktika province, which borders Pakistan. Four suspected Taleban attackers were killed in that fighting.

In neighboring Pakistan, senior officials have again denied that suspected Taleban militants are using Pakistani territory to launch attacks against Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan. Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan told reporters the allegations are baseless, and said Pakistan is engaged in an intense campaign against the Taleban. "There is no regrouping of the Taleban on the Pakistani soil, absolutely none," he said. "Our assessment is that the backbone of the Taleban [in Pakistan] has been broken. They are in splinter groups and all efforts are being made not to allow them to regroup."

The Pakistani spokesman says the supporters of the hardline Islamic Taleban are a "common problem" for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He called for increased cooperation between the two neighboring countries to tackle the issue.