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29 militants die in fighting in north Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 29 militants, including two commanders, have been killed over four days of intense fighting aimed at protecting supply routes through northern Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

Afghan and international forces launched an offensive last week in the province of Baghlan to push the Taliban out of a number of districts, including the outskirts of the provincial capital, about 120 miles north of Kabul. Insurgents had stepped up attacks in the formerly calm province as part of efforts to disrupt a key northern overland supply route for international forces.

NATO air strikes bombarded insurgent positions, killing 29 and wounding 52, said Zemeri Bashary, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Afghan police force.

At least three Afghan police and four German soldiers have been killed in the fighting. Bashary said the operation was continuing on Sunday.

Elsewhere, a foreign soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, NATO said, the third foreign death that day following an earlier announcement of the loss of two Dutch marines in the southern province of Uruzgan. The third soldier's nationality and other details of the incident were being withheld pending family notification, it said.

So far this month, 24 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan, where foreign troop levels are climbing toward 130,000 in a push to cripple the resurgent Taliban insurgency. An Afghan policeman was also killed during mine clearance operations in the southern province of Kandahar, the Interior Ministry said.

Also Sunday, in the northern province of Faryab, one person was killed and 14 wounded when a remote-controlled bomb exploded in a busy market in the town of Dawlatabad, according to Ahmad Jawed Bedar, spokesman for the provincial governor. It wasn't clear who set the bomb or what its intended target was. While Faryab has been relatively quiet, it shares a border with volatile Baghdis province.

Joint Afghan and NATO patrols found weapons and drug caches in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province, including more than 2,000 pounds of raw opium, 1,875 pounds of processed opium and 615 pounds of hashish. A number of people were held.

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In other news

• Afghan authorities released three Italian medical workers who had been detained for a week, clearing them of allegations they were part of a Taliban plot to kill a provincial governor. The Afghan intelligence service said the Italians as well as five Afghan employees of the Italian aid group Emergency were freed because they were no longer believed to be part of the plot. A sixth Afghan employee remained in custody.

• The top American aid official in Afghanistan, William Frej of the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveled to the embattled southern city of Kandahar to reassure Afghan officials that assistance programs would continue uninterrupted after a series of attacks on U.S. contractors, including devastating car bombings last week.

29 militants die in fighting in north Afghanistan 04/18/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 18, 2010 9:51pm]
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