QALAT, Afghanistan – The U.S. military said Saturday that a weeklong campaign of bombing and intense ground battles on the craggy mountain ridges of southern Afghanistan (search) have killed dozens of Taliban (search) holdouts.
U.S. special operations forces and hundreds of allied Afghan soldiers were pressing their assault, taking several strategic peaks and laying siege to positions of the hardline Islamic militant group. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
A provincial intelligence chief said that for the first time in the recent assault, American warplanes operated during daylight hours on Saturday, in support of a joint U.S.-Afghan operation that has met stiff resistance.
After two nights of bombing, the planes pounded the Chinaran mountains and two nearby areas in southern Zabul (search) province by day, Khalil Hotak told The Associated Press from his command center in Qalat, 45 miles south of the fighting.
"Our forces are on the tops of the mountains. They have laid siege to the area and the Taliban hideouts," Hotak said.
This week's fighting follows a recent surge in military action by the Taliban, which has staged deadly attacks on Afghan forces, officials and aid workers in an apparent bid to undermine the government of President Hamid Karzai (search).
The assaults have created new doubts about how much progress has been made by the U.S.-led effort to secure and rebuild the war-battered nation. The violence also raised serious concerns that the increasingly well-organized Taliban are regrouping after their harsh Islamic regime was toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
Pakistani paramilitary troops detained 26 suspected militants on suspicion they were involved in recent Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, a law enforcement official said Saturday.
Pakistani security forces also seized a cache of weapons and ammunition during a Friday raid on a house in the border town of Chaman, Col. Abdul Basit of the Frontier Constabulary told reporters.
The joint U.S. and Afghan attacks have centered on the remote Dai Chupan district in Zabul, which Hotak described as a Taliban stronghold from where the insurgents stage their operations into neighboring provinces. The U.S. military has called the area "a base of anti-coalition activity."
Col. Rodney Davis, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, told reporters Saturday that at least 33 insurgents had been killed in fighting with coalition and Afghan militia forces between Monday and Wednesday.
Hotak said 35 Taliban were killed Thursday and Friday, and the provincial governor said a similar number of insurgents were killed earlier in the week.
The battles in Zabul have been "at times, intense," Davis said, adding that two U.S. soldiers have been wounded but their lives were not in danger.
On Friday, a special operations soldier died in an accidental fall during a nighttime assault, the second American soldier to die in less than two weeks in Afghanistan.
Some 11,500 U.S.-led forces are helping Afghan troops in hunting down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, mainly in the south and east.