KABUL – A U.S. team working with Afghan soldiers swooped in on a militant stronghold in the country's west, killing at least 30 Taliban fighters, U.S. and Afghan officials said Monday. Elsewhere, a Taliban highway ambush left six truckers dead, and a roadside bomb killed another six Afghans in a crowded van.
Farah provincial Gov. Roh ul-Amin said no airstrikes were used during the battle. U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made protecting Afghan civilians a priority and sharply restricted the use of airstrikes.
Ul-Amin said 50 Taliban militants — but no coalition forces or civilians — died in the fighting, which he said began overnight and was still ongoing.
Maj. James Brownlee, a U.S. military spokesman, confirmed an operation but gave a lower death toll of 30 Taliban militants killed. He declined to comment further.
On Sunday, Taliban militants ambushed a truck convoy in eastern Kunar province, killing six drivers and burning their vehicles, the Interior Ministry and provincial police said. A seventh truck driver was kidnapped in the attack near the Pakistani border.
The trucks were loaded with construction materials bound for a military base, said Gen. Khaliullah Zaiyi, Kunar's police chief.
"We have already told them whenever they move from one place to another there should be a police escort," Zaiyi said. He said police were not informed the convoy was coming.
"We have extra forces on the highways with extra checkpoints, but it is very difficult to control such ambushes," he said.
Also Sunday, a private van hit a roadside bomb in northern Faryab province, the ministry said in a separate statement. Six of the people inside were killed and another seven injured, the statement said.
In northern Kunduz province, which has seen a sharp rise in Taliban violence in recent weeks, the U.S. military said an Afghan civilian was killed and another wounded at an American-Afghan checkpoint after the vehicle failed to stop. The military declined to offer further details.
Afghanistan's civilian toll has risen alongside that of U.S. and international forces this summer — with three-quarters of the deaths them at the hands of militants, according to a recent U.N. report. As the Taliban grip extends across ever greater territory, stretches of highway and road are falling into their hands.
The planted bombs have become a major cause of deaths and injuries for both international troops and Afghan civilians. Some are remotely detonated, but many are simply placed on roads and triggered by a vehicle riding over the explosive.
The U.N. report issued Saturday said August was the deadliest month of the year for civilians as the Taliban stepped up a campaign of violence to discourage voting in the Aug. 20 election. A total of 1,500 civilians died in Afghanistan from January through August, up from 1,145 for the same period of 2008, the U.N. report said.
The U.N. report said about three-quarters of the civilian deaths recorded this year were the work of militants. Coalition forces were responsible for the remaining deaths, most the result of airstrikes.