Afghan, Coalition Troops Kill 11 Insurgents

Afghan troops backed by coalition forces battled Taliban forces across volatile southern Afghanistan, killing 11 insurgents after militants killed three policemen and wounded another in an ambush.

Nine Taliban militants were killed during fighting that raged late Friday into Saturday in Panjwayi, a western district in Kandahar province, and 12 insurgents, including commanders, were captured, said Gov. Asadullah Khalid.

"Taliban and foreign Al Qaeda fighters are working together against our forces across southern Afghanistan, including in Panjwayi," Khalid told The Associated Press.

Khalid said seven Taliban members were wounded and carried away by fleeing militants.

Earlier Saturday, about 50 Afghan soldiers and police attacked a Taliban camp hidden in mountains about 60 miles north of the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah, local Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmattalluh Roufi said.

After a one-hour battle, Afghan forces ventured into caves that had been used by the Taliban, finding the bodies of two militants and several machine guns, Roufi said.

The remaining militants fled deeper into the mountains, he said.

Meanwhile, a purported spokesman for the Taliban said Saturday that insurgents will kill an Indian engineer held hostage in southern Afghanistan if all Indians do not leave the country within 24 hours.

Taliban militants have been blamed for a spike in violence across Afghanistan's southern provinces, which were strongholds of the hard-line regime that was toppled in late 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion.

In a speech to several thousand students at a Kabul stadium, President Hamid Karzai condemned the Taliban for the incessant violence.

"There are 100,000 students who can't go to school in the five southern provinces of Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost and Zabul because they have been closed as a result of the enemies of this country burning and attacking their schools," Karzai said.

Two schools housed in temporary tents were burned to the ground Friday and Thursday in northern Sari Pul province in the latest attack believed carried out by Taliban extremists opposed to coed schools, police said.

Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who releases regular statements on behalf of outlawed Taliban fighters, accused the Indian contractor, who was abducted Friday in the southern Zabul province, of being an "American spy."

"We warn all Indians working here to leave Afghanistan within 24 hours ... otherwise we will kill him," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone.

India's ambassador to Kabul, Rakesh Sood, identified the hostage as K. Suryanarayana, a father of three from Hyderabad in his early 40s who had been employed here since January by a Bahrain-based company, al-Moayed. The firm has been contracted by an Afghan mobile phone company, Roshan, to expand its network across volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan.

In Hyderabad, Suryanarayana's relatives said they were devastated by the execution threat, which they learned about in media reports

"We are shocked to the core and don't know what will happen next," said his wife, Manjula.

The kidnapping was the first here since four Macedonians of Albanian descent were kidnapped and killed in March, purportedly by Taliban militants.

Meanwhile, a child herding cows detonated an anti-tank mine south of Kabul, killing two children and wounding two others, police said Saturday.

Afghanistan is littered with land mines left over from almost three decades of conflict.