QALAT, Afghanistan – Afghan forces in the southern province of Zabul (search) captured five fugitive Taliban (search) militants, including an insurgent leader, after a battle that killed scores of rebels, a regional Afghan commander said Saturday.
The U.S. military said it could confirm that at least 84 enemy fighters were killed in action.
The main Afghan commander in Zabul province, Haji Saifullah Khan, said his troops patrolling the district of Mizan, 25 miles northwest of the provincial capital, Qalat, captured the Taliban fighters late Friday. The captives included a junior rebel commander identified as Mullah Salam (search).
"Mullah Salam was injured and he was taken away in a U.S. helicopter," Khan said without elaborating.
The fleeing Taliban were retreating from Dai Chupan — the Zabul district that was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the ruling hard-line Islamic militia in late 2001.
Khan said hundreds of Afghan National Army troops are expected to be deployed in Zabul province next week to maintain security.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops remained in Dai Chupan and in eastern Paktika province, bordering Pakistan, searching for Taliban holdouts in an operation dubbed "Mountain Viper."
Although Afghan officials claimed victory Wednesday after a nine-day battle in Dai Chupan, the U.S. military said it considers the operations ongoing.
"Operations since yesterday have focused on combat patrols to enhance security," Col. Rodney Davis said Saturday in a statement from Bagram Air Base, the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters north of the capital, Kabul.
The coalition is giving humanitarian assistance to villagers in the area, he said.
Afghan military commanders claim they have retrieved the bodies of at least 124 Taliban killed in the fighting in Dai Chupan. The U.S. military said it could confirm that at least 84, and perhaps 95, enemy fighters were killed in action.
Two American soldiers died in a firefight in Paktika last week that also killed four suspected insurgents.
The fighting — following a series of Taliban attacks against Afghan officials, police and aid workers in the south and east — has underscored the security problems faced by President Hamid Karzai's administration, which took power soon after the Taliban's ouster in late 2001.