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Coalition in 13-hour Taliban fight

  • Story Highlights
  • A group of 50 Taliban fighters fired on Afghan troops near Payowak
  • Thursday's attack was sign of desperation, a U.S. military spokeswoman says
  • U.S., NATO troops have been battling Taliban in Helmand province for months
  • Karzai said Monday that the Taliban no longer poses a significant threat
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(CNN) -- Afghan troops backed by coalition aircraft are fighting a "large battle" with Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan, the latest major skirmish there this week, U.S. military reported Thursday.

The U.S. command in Afghanistan said the battle had lasted more than 13 hours and was still going on early Friday in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province. It said at least 10 insurgents had been killed, with no Afghan, coalition or civilian losses reported.

The Afghan troops, with advisers from the U.S.-led coalition, came under fire near the town of Payowak from a group of 50 Taliban fighters armed with mortars, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The Afghan troops received some early warning when they saw civilians leaving the area before the attack was launched, the U.S. military reported.

The Afghans moved to higher ground and called in air support from coalition warplanes. It said the Taliban fighters were reinforcing their positions, and dozens of insurgents were coming into the area to join the battle.

U.S. and NATO troops have been battling a resurgent Taliban in Helmand province for months. The Islamic fundamentalist militia once ruled most of Afghanistan and allowed the al Qaeda terrorist organization to operate from its territory, but a U.S.-led coalition ousted it from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Thursday's battle follows a clash Tuesday with Taliban fighters in neighboring Uruzgan province, when a group of about 75 fighters attacked a coalition military outpost from three directions. U.S. warplanes aided coalition troops in that battle, in which nearly two dozen militants were killed.

Also on Tuesday, Afghan police staved off an ambush north of Sangin in Helmand province and coalition aircraft pounded insurgent positions. More than two dozen insurgents were killed.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that the Taliban no longer poses a significant threat either to his government or to its institutions, though they still endanger innocent people. And a U.S. military spokeswoman said attacks like Thursday's are a sign of desperation.

"We should expect more of these types of large-scale engagements as the insurgents start to run out of places to hide," Capt. Vanessa Bowman said in a statement describing the battle. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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