NATO launched airstrikes as clashes in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar killed 28 suspected Taliban militants, police said Thursday.

Canadian troops from a NATO-led security force and Afghan police identified a Taliban position in Zhari district late Wednesday, and with close air support, killed 22 suspected militants, district police chief Ghulam Rasool Aga told The Associated Press.

NATO spokesman Maj. Luke Knittig confirmed NATO and Afghan forces clashed with a group of insurgents who had attacked them with small arms fire, but had no immediate details on militant casualties. He said an assessment of the clash was ongoing.

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Earlier Wednesday in Zhari, police fought for three hours with Taliban fighters. The clash left six Taliban dead and four wounded, Aga said. One policeman and three villagers were also wounded, he said, adding that the militants had taken shelter in civilian homes.

Fighting has escalated sharply in southern Afghanistan this year, the deadliest upsurge in violence since the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. More than 3,000 people have been killed, mostly militants, according to an AP tally of reports from Afghan, NATO and U.S. military officials.

In other violence, suspected Taliban ambushed a police convoy on the main Kandahar-Kabul highway in Shahjoy district of southern Zabul province late Wednesday, killing two police and wounding five, provincial police chief Loor Mohammed Paktil said. He didn't know if any militants were hurt in the ensuing clash.

In eastern Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces captured three suspected militants early Thursday from a compound near the city of Khost, a coalition statement said. It did not identify the suspects, who surrendered peacefully.

"Credible intelligence indicated the compound was a refuge for a terrorist network operating in the Khost province," the statement said.

Also in Khost, suspected Taliban attacked a police post on a highway on Wednesday night about 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of the provincial capital, sparking an intense one-hour gunbattle.

Provincial police chief Mohammed Ayub said one policeman was killed and two wounded, and the bodies of about five militants, some dismembered, were left on the battlefield. He claimed other militants fled by foot and then pickup truck across the border into North Waziristan in Pakistan.

The wounded police were taken by U.S.-led coalition helicopter to hospital, but foreign forces were not involved in the fighting, Ayub said.

In September, tribal leaders in Pakistan brokered a peace deal between the government and pro-Taliban militants that was meant to curb militant forays into Afghanistan, but Afghan and Western officials say cross-border infiltration continues. Pakistan maintains it does all it can to stop it.

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