US: 32 militants killed near Kabul

The US has killed 32 insurgents and destroyed two caches of weapons in a Taliban cell near the Afghan capital Kabul.

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Coalition soldiers killed 32 insurgents in an operation against a Taliban cell near the Afghan capital Kabul, which is believed to have carried out several bomb attacks, the US military said today. The operation took place yesterday in the Alishing district of Laghman province, about 100 kilometres east of the capital, said the force, which is helping Afghanistan tackle an extremist insurgency. "Coalition forces killed 32 armed insurgents including one female, detained one suspected militant, and destroyed two large caches of weapons, explosives and roadside bomb materials," it said.

The targeted Taliban group was involved in roadside bombing attacks on coalition soldiers and civilians throughout 2008, the military said. During the operation, about 75 armed militants left their compounds and tried to converge on the soldiers, shooting from rooftops and alleyways. The troops returned fire, choosing not to call in war planes as backup or use artillery inside the village to avoid civilian casualties, the statement said.

The toll was one of the heaviest announced by the military in recent weeks of fighting against Taliban and other insurgents battling the US-backed government of the Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Afghan officials said they could not immediately confirm what had happened in Alishing, where the radical Hezb-I-Islami faction is also said to be active. Last year was the deadliest yet of the Taliban insurgency, launched after the extremists regrouped following their ousting from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001 for sheltering the al Qa'eda network.

The number of insurgent bomb attacks roughly doubled last year to about 2,000, US ambassador William Wood said last week. The country was likely to face a similar level of insurgent violence in 2009, the Afghan defence ministry said this week, but added security forces would be in a better position to fight back. Between 20,000 and 30,000 extra US troops are expected to begin deploying in the coming weeks, reinforcing the nearly 70,000 foreign soldiers already here.

The Afghan army is meanwhile growing at a rate of about 2,500 men a month, according to US officials. * AFP