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Afghan gov't says ousts Taliban from Dai Chopan

( 2003-09-03 15:11) (Agencies)

After more than a week of intense bombardment and ground fighting, Afghan and U.S.-led forces have driven out Taliban fighters from Dai Chopan district in the southern province of Zabul, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Taliban fighters put up stiff resistance on Aug 31, 2003 as Afghan and U.S. forces backed by artillery, jet fighters and attack helicopters continued to hunt hundreds of militants, an official said. Khalil Hotak, intelligence chief in the southern province of Zabul where the battle entered its seventh day, said 14 Taliban guerrillas were killed on Saturday, taking the ousted Islamic militia's reported losses since Monday to more than 90. Also, two U.S. soldiers were killed near their base at Shkin, in the eastern province of Paktika a few miles from the Pakistani border.    [Reuters]
Zabul's intelligence chief, Khalil Hotak, also said that authorities from neighboring provinces had rushed fighters to the borders of the district to arrest Taliban forces trying to flee.

He told Reuters he had received reports of skirmishes between fugitive guerrillas from the hardline Islamic militia and Afghan troops in some parts of Uruzgan province to the north of Dai Chopan.

"We have overrun all Taliban strongholds in Dai Chopan," Hotak said. "The operation for Dai Chopan finished last night. American planes are flying, mostly on reconnaissance missions, and people there have announced support for the government."

Hotak said up to 124 corpses of Taliban fighters, including two Arabs, have been found in caves and mountainous areas of Dai Chopan during the operation which started on August 25.

The Taliban claims its losses are much lower, while the U.S. military told Reuters on Wednesday that between 43 and 67 "anti-coalition personnel" had been killed.

Hotak put the death toll among Afghan troops at seven for the battle involving hundreds of soldiers and a small group of U.S. troops backed by air support. There were up to 1,000 Taliban fighters involved.

One soldier from U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan died of wounds sustained in an accident during the operation and two received gunshot wounds.


News of the Taliban setback came a day after Maulvi Faizullah, a senior Taliban commander involved in fighting in Zabul, said around 300 fresh fighters had been deployed in Dai Chopan to join their fellow fighters in battle.

He said the reinforcements were being led by former Taliban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. They had been sent from Khost province in the southeast bordering Pakistan.

The Taliban force in Zabul was the largest concentration of militants from the ousted regime since it was toppled from power late in 2001. The movement has declared a "jihad," or holy war against foreign forces, aid organizations and their allies in Afghanistan.

August was the bloodiest month since the Taliban's demise, and an estimated 220 people have been killed and scores wounded in violence since August 7.

The toll includes civilians, local aid workers, several dozen police including seven killed late on Sunday in separate attacks near Zabul along the highway linking the capital with the south, which is being rebuilt with foreign funds.

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