KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – More than 30 Taliban militants drowned when a boat sank in southern Afghanistan, the defence ministry said, as the coalition force said two dozen more were killed elsewhere.
The boat sank after coming under fire from soldiers as it crossed the Helmand River on Monday carrying Taliban fighters escaping military operations, the defence ministry said.
It was the second such incident since Friday, when the ministry has said another Taliban boat sank in similar circumstances, drowning 60 rebel fighters.
In Monday’s incident Afghan soldiers backed by foreign troops fired on the makeshift boat as it crossed the river, which travels through the southern province of Helmand, a ministry spokesman said.
“Over 30 Taliban were on board and all of them drowned and died,” General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP. The bodies had not been recovered, he said.
There was no other confirmation of the tolls for either of the sinkings.
Azimi said the soldiers had come under fire from those on the boat.
“Those onboard were all terrorists,” a ministry statement said separately.
The US-led coalition said it was aware of such an incident, which its reports said occurred on Sunday, but it was not involved.
The separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force did not have information about the reported sinkings.
Afghan and foreign forces are involved in an operation in the area, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency.
About 20 other rebels were killed in fighting Monday across southern Afghanistan, where hundreds of Afghan and foreign troops have launched a wave of operations since last week, the ministry said, without giving details.
The coalition said earlier an estimated two dozen rebels were killed in a battle in southern Kandahar province on Monday. It was not clear if the Afghan and coalition forces were talking about the same incident.
The soldiers had come under attack from rockets and gunfire and called in warplanes in a four-hour battle, the coalition said in a statement.
“Coalition close air support was requested and munitions were dropped on three enemy positions,” the coalition said in a statement.
“There were an estimated two dozen enemy fighters killed during the four-hour battle and no reports of Afghan civilian injuries,” it said.
The battle was about 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of Kandahar city, which sees regulars attacks by Taliban fighters.
It was the same area of Kandahar where soldiers from the separate NATO-led force came under fire the day before, leaving eight wounded.
The Taliban movement picked up arms in Kandahar province in the early 1990s, when Afghanistan was in chaos as the leaders of the anti-Soviet resistance fought each other for power in Kabul.
The extremists were in government by 1996 and imposed their harsh version of Islam on a battered population before being driven from government in late 2001 by the coalition.
They are trying to stage a comeback with assistance from their allies in the Al-Qaeda network and tactics apparently imported from the conflict in Iraq.
Afghan officials allege Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders plot much of the violence from Pakistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was due to meet President Hamid Karzai in Kabul Tuesday.