Battle in Afghanistan Leaves 55 Militants, NATO Soldier Dead

NATO troops fought a six-hour battle with insurgents in southern Afghanistan Monday in a firefight that left 55 militants and one NATO soldier dead, the Western alliance said.

The battle comes on the heels of another major fight in neighboring Uruzgan province that left 70 insurgents dead on Saturday.

Monday's fight in the Daychopan district of Zabul province also left 20 militants wounded, NATO said.

The nationality of the dead NATO soldier was not revealed, though many of the Western troops in Zabul are American.

Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said troops are moving into areas where insurgents are active in order to increase security so that reconstruction and development can take place.

"What you are seeing in the southern provinces is our troops moving out with a purpose, which is to where we're seeing insurgent activity," Knittig said.

NATO and Afghan troops on Saturday killed 70 suspected militants who attacked a military base north of Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan. The alliance and Afghan troops fought back for several hours with small arms fire, attack helicopters and airstrikes.

NATO and Afghan troops are pressing ahead with a new joint offensive called Operation Eagle, aimed at keeping pressure on the Taliban through the fall and winter and to pave the way for long-promised development after the harshest fighting in five years.

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The 32,000-strong NATO-led force took command of security operations in all of Afghanistan last month. The alliance has been battling resurgent Taliban militants in the south and east in the worst upsurge of violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban.

Earlier Monday, Canada's top general in Afghanistan said Taliban fighters would likely continue their "cowardly" attacks against women and children through the use of suicide and roadside bombs.

"Ultimately they will have to explain to the people themselves why they are attacking the people in a completely cowardly way," Brig. Gen. David Fraser told The Associated Press in an interview.

Fraser has been the commander of about 9,500 NATO forces — primarily British, Canadian and Dutch troops — in southern Afghanistan since July 31. On Wednesday, he transfers power to Dutch Maj. Gen. Ton Van Loon, who will command six southern provinces for six months.

Fraser said there will continue to be violence in the region as the government expands. He said he regretted any civilian casualties.

"The Taliban is using people here as human shields," he said. "The Taliban are using the houses of the people. Unfortunately and regrettably, from time to time, when the Taliban get that close, as much as we try there will be casualties."