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US, Afghan Troops Clash with Suspected Militants in Southern Afghanistan - 2004-05-26

U.S. and Afghan troops have fought a major battle against suspected militants in southern Afghanistan. Coalition forces say they expect more battles as they step up efforts to hunt down anti-government fighters.

A U.S. military spokesman says unidentified militants attacked a coalition patrol late Tuesday near the border between Kandahar and Zabul provinces.

Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager says following a protracted firefight, the coalition troops called in an air strike that apparently dispersed the attackers.

"The engagement ended rather abruptly, so I would say that at least that group of anti-coalition militants is on the run," he said.

Afghan commander Mohammed Khan is quoted in reports as saying more than 100 Afghan and U.S. troops took part in the fighting, and that 20 fighters loyal to Afghanistan's former Taleban regime were killed.

Those numbers would make Tuesday's engagement the largest of its kind this year.

The U.S. military could not confirm the figures, but said there are no reports of any casualties on the coalition side.

Taleban forces and their allies have been waging an armed resistance against the Afghan transitional government since the U.S.-led war in 2001, which ousted the Taleban.

Afghanistan is preparing for elections to choose a new government, with voting scheduled for September.

Colonel Mansager warns more battles are ahead. He says the Afghan and U.S. forces are deliberately trying to draw the militants into combat to root them out and bring security to Afghanistan's outlying provinces.

"The odds are that we are going to have more contacts, because we are looking for those contacts," he said. "That is all geared towards improving security and stability in Afghanistan overall, and particularly in the run-up for the elections."

On Monday, a coalition patrol skirmished with alleged militants, resulting in the capture of three suspected anti-government fighters.