Afghan forces aided by Nato aircraft and artillery killed 71 suspected Taliban militants in running battles in southern Afghanistan that also left five Afghan troops dead in one of the bloodiest clashes since the 2001 US-led invasion.
The insurgents were killed in a series of clashes which started on Saturday and spilled into yesterday morning following a militant attack in Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province, said Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, the district chief.
A purported Taliban spokesman said 12 insurgents were killed and eight were wounded.
Afghanistan's southern provinces are bearing the brunt of the worst bout of violence to have rocked the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in the US-led invasion in late 2001, as insurgents try to undermine the authority of President H amid Karzai and his government.
Nato troops used artillery and aircraft to inflict "heavy casualties against Taliban fighters", an alliance statement said.
"It was a sizeable engagement," said Toby Jackman, a Nato force spokesman. He called the clash a part of the ongoing operation "to extend security" in the main Kabul-Kandahar highway.
The bodies of the dead militants were found in three locations, scattered through orchards alongside their weapons, Sarhadi said.
Four police and one Afghan soldier were also killed in the clash, officials said. Three police and five soldiers were wounded and three other officers were missing.