Afghan security forces backed by coalition helicopters attacked a suspected Taliban hideout in southern Afghanistan, setting off an intense gunbattle that killed 41 rebels, a provincial governor said Saturday.

Six Afghan police officers also died in Friday's fighting in Sangisar, a town 25 miles southwest of Kandahar, said Asadullah Khalid, the provincial governor. Nine police and several militants were wounded.

"Acting on intelligence reports that Taliban have gathered in Sangisar to plan an attack in Kandahar, we launched this operation Friday and the fighting continued from morning to evening," he said.

Khalid said security forces were pursuing Taliban fighters who fled to a nearby village. He said security forces had seen the bodies of 41 rebels but had only retrieved 11.

AH-64 Apache helicopters provided by coalition forces fired rockets to support Afghan forces on the ground, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Mike Cody. He declined to comment on casualty figures.

An Associated Press reporter in Sangisar saw helicopters launch missiles but couldn't see if the barrage caused casualties.

Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks on coalition and Afghan forces, threatening the country's development and progress toward democracy. Coalition forces have been particularly disturbed by an increase in suicide attacks. Fighting has escalated in recent weeks as spring weather has melted snow on mountains passes used by militants.

On Friday, a roadside bomb killed three Afghan soldiers in eastern Khost province, and a suicide car bombing wounded three British troops in the southern province of Helmand.

Also this week, coalition and Afghan forces launched a major offensive, dubbed Operation Mountain Lion, in eastern Kunar province where militants from Taliban, Al Qaeda and other groups are active.