Scores of Taliban militants killed in Afghan raids, officials say
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Afghan and NATO forces have killed at least 60 militants they say were massing for an attack on Laskar Gah in the southern Helmand province.
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) — Dozens of militants were killed in air strikes on rebels who had massed outside Afghanistan's southern town of Lashkar Gah to launch a major attack, authorities said Sunday.
Officials issued different death tolls for the strikes that started late Saturday, with an Afghan officials saying 62 were dead and British forces based in the town giving an initial toll of 27.
It was impossible to independently verify the casualties of the battles in Helmand, Afghanistan's main opium-producing province and a stronghold of the Taliban, whom officials say are linked to other extremists and drugs traffickers.
About 160 fighters had been spotted gathering outside the town over the past three days, said a spokesman for the British military which has a base in Lashkar Gah, the small provincial capital.
"We knew they were massing outside of the city," Lieutenant Colonel Woody Page told AFP. "The operation that was launched last night was deliberately launched to defeat them outside Lashkar Gah."
He said the rebels had "significant losses", with initial figures saying at least 27 were killed and a similar number wounded.
But the Afghan government had a far higher toll, with the spokesman for the Helmand government, Daud Ahmadi, saying 62 were killed.
"Last night they attacked from three directions ... to divide and keep our forces busy," he told AFP. "The joint forces of NATO, Afghan army and police had fought them."
Groups of dead bodies had been left at various places, he said. "Our information suggests that 62 Taliban were killed. This figure might rise even higher," he said.
The provincial police chief, Assadullah Shairzad, said dozens of rebels had died, adding that security forces suffered no losses.
"They launched their attack in big numbers from a southern direction, from Bolan area, but our forces were aware of their plan and were watching them," he said. "A big number of militants were killed at different locations."
A spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under which the British forces serve, told AFP 42 rebels were killed.
"We conducted an air strike in which 42 members of the enemy forces were killed," she said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to release her name.
The 40-nation mission later issued a statement that said only "multiple enemy forces" had died.
It is common in Afghanistan for the various groups involved in fighting the Taliban-led insurgency to issue different tolls.
Helmand, Afghanistan's largest province, has seen some of the worst of the insurgency launched after the Taliban were able to regroup following their ouster from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Officials admit that large parts of the province are not under the control of authorities and the British military has lost several soldiers in its efforts to extend the government's authority.
A days-long operation in the province's Nad Ali district had left around 40 rebel fighters dead, police said Sunday.
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