Afghan Officials Say 12 Taliban Killed in Clash With NATO Forces

International and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban insurgents in heavy fighting that left at least 12 militants dead in central Afghanistan on Friday, officials said.

NATO forces said they could not confirm any deaths in the fighting but that one of its troops was wounded.

The battle started when an Afghan convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Wardak province's Chak district, said provincial Police Chief Gen. Abdul Yamen Muzafaruddin. As the gunbattle waged for more than an hour, international forces called in an air strike, he said.

Muzafaruddin said they had collected 12 bodies of militants so far, but that he had reports of as many as 18 more. No army troops were killed, though one was wounded, he said.

A large explosion reverberated through the valley as the battle waged, according to an AP reporter on the scene. A medical helicopter could be seen apparently evacuating the Afghan soldier from the valley, which has become the scene of regular clashes between U.S.-led forces and insurgents.

Wardak Gov. Halim Fidai confirmed the firefight and called it a large and lengthy battle. Wardak province, on the western edge of the capital, has seen more violence as militants try to destabilize the area around Kabul.

NATO forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ludger Terbrueggen confirmed the fighting and one wounded service member, but said he had no reports of any deaths on either side.

Meanwhile, Taliban militants released the father of Afghanistan's education minister after holding him hostage for four days.

Two militants on motorbikes seized Education Minister Farouq Wardak's father in Wardak province Monday. Khoja Mir, 80, was released in neighboring Ghazni province early Friday with the assistance of community elders who pressured the kidnappers to set him free, said Ghazni Police Chief Gen. Khialbaz Sherzad.

Kidnappings of wealthy Afghans have spiked over the last year, often carried out by criminals and militants seeking money or political leverage.

Both the police chief and another of Mir's son's, Sher Wali Wardak, said he was released without any exchange of money.

Sher Wali Wardak praised the government for its quick reaction, and said his father was on his way to Kabul around midday.

In the capital Friday, a police officer was killed by a bomb inside a package left at a checkpoint. Police stopped a man walking with the large package in southern Kabul before dawn, and the man quickly dropped the box and ran off, said Ahsib Arian, the district police chief. An officer was killed when he looked inside the box, he said.