Authorities: 70 Taliban Fighters Killed in Afghanistan

Afghan troops backed by foreign soldiers and airpower killed about 70 suspected Taliban fighters in raids close to the Pakistan border and elsewhere in the country, authorities said Saturday.

Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is running at its highest level since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban despite the presence of more than 50,000 foreign troops and 110,000 Afghan police and military officers.

U.S.-led troops and Afghan security forces raided compounds late Friday in three villages in the remote Pitigal Valley border region, where intelligence showed that top militant leaders take refuge as they travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition said.

More than 20 insurgents were killed and 11 others were detained, while officers also discovered a bomb-making factory, it said in a statement.

In the central province of Ghazni, Afghan police attacked a group of Taliban planning to strike security forces, killing 18 and arresting six others, said provincial police Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadai.

"It was a successful operation," he said.

A coalition statement said the operation was targeting "a militant responsible for facilitating the movement of foreign fighters." It resulted in the seizure of mortar and artillery rounds, numerous hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and other ammunition, it said. It did not say if the targeted militant was among those killed or provide any other details.

Taliban militants abducted 23 South Koreans in Ghazni six weeks ago. They killed two male hostages, released two women last month and freed the final 19 this past week after the Taliban held unprecedented negotiations with the Seoul government.

In Musa Qala district in southern Helmand province, a combined police and coalition patrol came under attack on Friday from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, the coalition said in a statement. In the fight that ensued, almost two dozen insurgents were killed, it said.

No Afghan or coalition soldiers, or civilians, were killed, it said.

Also in Musa Qala, Afghan forces Saturday called in coalition airstrikes after coming under attack, the coalition said. Seven insurgents were killed, the statement said.

Parts of Musa Qaka have been under the control of Taliban militants for months. The region has seen several weeks of bloody combat.

It was not possible to independently verify any of the death tolls because travel to the areas is extremely dangerous. Taliban commanders were not available for comment.

The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until 2001, imposing an extreme version of Islam and harboring al-Qaida leaders and thousands of other Muslim militants from around the world.

They were ousted by a U.S.-led coalition following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, but are now leading an increasingly bloody campaign against the country's Western-backed government.

More than 4,200 people — most of them insurgents — have been killed so far this year, according to an Associated Press count.