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Commander: Taliban sending 300 more fighters in to battle


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SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, (Reuters) -- Afghanistan's Taliban has sent 300 more fighters to the southern province of Zabol to help battle Afghan government and U.S.-led troops, a commander from the ousted militia said on Tuesday.

Maulvi Faizullah, a senior Taliban commander involved in fighting in Zabol, said a fresh wave of militants had been deployed in Dai Chopan district to join up to 1,000 others who have been fighting in the area for the last eight days.

The reinforcements were being led by former Taliban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Faizullah told Reuters. They had been sent from Khost province in the east bordering Pakistan, he said.

Zabol provincial intelligence chief Khalil Hotak said Afghan government forces backed by U.S.-led troops were searching in the Koh Larzab area of Dai Chopan, where he said Taliban militants were believed to be hiding in caves.

There were no air attacks from U.S. and allied jet fighters and helicopter gunships early on Tuesday and no direct contact with the Taliban fighters, he added.

U.S.: Force engaging Taliban remnants

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According to a U.S. military spokesman, soldiers from the 20-nation force hunting remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden clashed with small enemy units of five to 10 men on Tuesday and trapped one group in a cave.

Suspected Taliban guerrillas and their supporters, who the U.S. military says have been scattered, are using small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades against U.S.-led troops and their Afghan allies.

The Taliban has declared a "jihad," or holy war against foreign forces, aid organisations and allies in Afghanistan. Afghan policemen, soldiers and aid workers have borne the brunt of the attacks, with Taliban officials calling them spies for foreign organisations or supporters of the United States and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

The battle in Zabol helped make August the bloodiest month since the Taliban was toppled from power by U.S. air power and Afghan ground forces in late 2001.

Afghan officials and commanders say more than 90 Taliban fighters have been killed, most of them in air raids, while the Taliban say its losses are far lower. The U.S. military has reported at least 37 Taliban losses in the Zabol fighting.

There were no fresh casualties reported by either side on Tuesday.

Four police officers killed

A U.S. embassy spokesman in Kabul said resurfacing work on a highway from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar was continuing despite a string of recent killings along the road.

Early on Monday four policemen were killed, four were wounded and four went missing after a raid on their checkpoint 180 km (115 miles) northeast of Kandahar in Zabol province.

Indian contractors working for U.S. company Louis Berger Group Inc came under small-arms fire in a guest house nearby. In a separate attack, two of the company's security guards were shot dead when assailants opened fire on their vehicle.

Two more attacks were carried out late on Sunday or early on Monday in Zabol and the neighbouring Uruzgan province, taking to 11 the number of people killed in the area.

The highway is the largest reconstruction project in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, and its progress is seen as a barometer of the success or otherwise of the central government in stabilising the country.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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