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Afghans Hunt for Taliban after Heavy Fighting - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) -Afghan forces scoured several southern villages on Sunday, hunting for Taliban after one of the heaviest recent battles with the guerrillas, a provincial governor said.

The search was centred on villages in Zare Dasht district, along a main road to the west of the southern city of Kandahar, said provincial governor, Assadullah Khalid.

“The hunt, or operation, against the Taliban continues,” Khalid told Reuters.

Afghanistan has seen a surge of attacks on Afghan and foreign forces since the Taliban announced last month they had launched a spring offensive.

The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign troops and defeat the Western-backed government, have claimed responsibility for a string of suicide and roadside bombs, ambushes and raids on foreign and Afghan military bases.

About 100 Taliban were believed to be at large in the villages after Friday’s battle, when U.S.-led troops and their aircraft backed government forces.

Some arrests had been made, Khalid said, but he did not give details. Residents said they saw U.S.-led troops transporting artillery pieces into Zare Dasht district.

The governor said on Saturday 41 Taliban insurgents and six policemen had been killed in the battle. The Taliban denied his account, saying only three of their fighters had been killed.

A Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, said Taliban fighters had inflicted heavy losses on their enemies, and he vowed more attacks.

“Our opposition are facing heavy losses,” Dadullah told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“Because of our suicide attacks, it has become very difficult for coalition forces to come out of their bases and they have adopted a defensive strategy instead of offensive,” he said.

“The weather is now less cold and we’ve begun our operations and they will continue.”

Fighting traditionally intensifies in Afghanistan in the spring, when snow blocking mountain passes melts, allowing guerrillas more mobility.

Separately, several Taliban fighters were killed and wounded late on Saturday after they staged a series of attacks against police posts along a main road in neighbouring Zabul province, provincial police said on Sunday.

But the Taliban, who have been fighting government and foreign forces since their overthrow by U.S.-led troops in late 2001, said only two of their fighters were wounded in clashes.

They said government forces had suffered heavy casualties.

U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan and toppled a Taliban government after leaders refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.