14 Killed, Hurt After Taliban Militants Attack Checkpoints

Taliban fighters simultaneously attacked two police checkpoints on a southern Afghan highway, and up to 14 militants were killed or wounded in the ensuing gunbattle, an official said Sunday.

In central Afghanistan, coalition and Afghan troops shot dead three insurgents.

The checkpoint attacks, which occurred Saturday, came a day after heavy fighting in the southern province of Kandahar killed 41 militants and six policemen, police said, in the biggest battle in a recent spate of Taliban-led violence threatening this war-battered nation's new democracy.

In neighboring Zabul province late Saturday, about 30 Taliban attacked police posts about a mile apart on the outskirts of Qalat district, 95 miles northeast of Kandahar city, Zabul police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhail said.

The police were deployed at the posts to guard the main highway linking the capital, Kabul, with Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.

The fighting lasted for about 30 minutes, and 14 militants were killed or wounded, said Malakhail, who did not have an exact breakdown of the casualties. He said there were no police casualties.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, claimed rebels from his extremist movement attacked three police posts.

Kandahar and neighboring Helmand and Zabul provinces are located in a swathe of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban have kept up a stubborn series of attacks against the government and U.S.-led coalition forces hunting them.

On Saturday, suspected Taliban attacked coalition and Afghan army troops with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in central Uruzgan province, sparking a gunbattle that killed three attackers, the U.S. military said in a statement.

No Afghan or coalition forces were wounded, it said.

Also, suspected Taliban shot and killed a district administrator in Helmand. Abdul Majid, the administrator of Baghran district, was going to his office when assailants opened fire on his vehicle, killing him and wounding two guards, said Ghulam Muhiddin, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Helmand is Afghanistan's main opium poppy-growing region and fears of widespread violence have risen since an aggressive poppy eradication campaign started in recent weeks.

In Friday's fighting in Sartak, a village about 25 miles southwest of Kandahar, Afghan security forces backed by U.S.-led coalition helicopters attacked a suspected Taliban hideout, and 41 rebels and six police were killed.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said the attack was launched following intelligence reports that militants in the village were preparing to attack Kandahar. Residents said they had appealed in vain for between 50 and 60 militants to leave their village days earlier.

Since being ousted in late 2001 by the U.S. military for harboring the Al Qaeda network, the Taliban have called for a jihad — or holy war — against foreign troops here and U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

Militant attacks often increase with the onset of spring, when snows melt on high mountain passes that the fighters use for hiding in or for moving from one place to another.

The escalating violence is a concern for the United States, which has more than 18,000 troops in Afghanistan, and other nations contributing troops under the mandate of NATO.

That force is doubling in size from its current 10,000 troops to about 21,000 by November as NATO gradually assumes command of all international forces in the country. Some 6,000 mainly British, Canadian and Dutch troops have started moving into the rebellious southern provinces.