Airstrike, Gunbattles Leave 35 Suspected Taliban Dead in Afghanistan

U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops backed by aircraft clashed with suspected Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, leaving more than 35 militants dead, the coalition said Friday.

Troops and guerrillas battled for five hours on Thursday in the Sangin district of Helmand province, where NATO-led forces are pushing forward with their largest-ever anti-Taliban offensive, a coalition statement said.

Afghan National Army and coalition forces "pursued fleeing Taliban fighters northward, near the village of Kaj Gerd, as they were attempting to break contact," the statement said. "More than 35 Taliban fighters were killed."

There was no mention of any coalition or Afghan casualties.

The account could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area.

The news came after NATO said a battle in the south on Friday left one of its soldiers dead and two others injured.

The two wounded soldiers were treated in a military hospital and their condition was "not serious," NATO said in a statement. It did not identify the casualties, or say where the clash took place.

Helmand is currently the focus of counterinsurgency operations by foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is engaged in Operation Achilles, launched last month to flush militants from the northern tip of the opium-producing province.

Most of the NATO troops in the south, which also includes the former Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar, are British or Canadian.

A series of bomb and gun attacks have left 11 NATO soldiers dead since last weekend, despite their superior firepower and support from the U.S.-trained Afghan army.

Roadside bombs struck two NATO convoys in the east on Thursday, killing two soldiers. Another NATO soldier was wounded. Most alliance soldiers in the east are American.

A day before, a bomb blast in the south killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded three others. Another six Canadians died in a single bomb attack on their convoy on Sunday — the worst combat loss for the alliance this year.

Fighting is also going on in Zabul, a province on the Pakistan border, where officials reported at least 35 suspected militants killed in an airstrike called by U.S.-led troops on Thursday.

The burst of violence coincided with a gathering of NATO military officials in Canada to discuss how to strengthen their efforts in Afghanistan.

NATO and U.S. leaders have made repeated calls for additional resources, but have met resistance from some allies, including the French and Germans, who questioned the wisdom of deploying more combat troops and said more emphasis should be placed on reconstruction efforts.

Returning from that meeting Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said NATO wants about 3,400 more trainers for the Afghan army and police force. U.S. officials hope European nations will meet most of that need.

The NATO-led force in the south also needs more aircraft and medical equipment as well as military trainers to bolster its spring assault against the Taliban, according to the U.S. military.

Gates said the group that met in Canada — which included defense ministers from Canada, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania — talked mostly about how to better coordinate their military and civilian activities, including reconstruction efforts.

The U.S. now has about 25,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some 14,000 serving in the NATO-led force, which totals roughly 36,000 troops.