Afghan Police Kill 12 Taliban Militants in Shootout

Afghan police killed 12 Taliban militants in a southern shootout Tuesday, while more than 30 suspected insurgents were detained as security forces fought back against a deadly spike in violence, officials said.

A fierce gunbattle broke out in Ghazni province's mountainous Andar district as Afghan soldiers and police, backed by U.S.-led coalition forces, entered an area where insurgents were holed up, said Mohammed Ali Fakuri, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Twelve militants were killed in the ensuing clash and their bodies left at the scene by comrades who fled, Fakuri said. Two policemen and one Afghan soldier were wounded.

Ghazni and other southern provinces, particularly Kandahar and Helmand, are gripped by the deadliest spate of fighting since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for harboring Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

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A U.S.-led coalition soldier was also killed and another injured when their Huvmee rolled over Monday in eastern Kunar province's Asadabad district, a coalition statement said.

Afghan police arrested nine people accused of helping Afghan and Pakistani militants prepare for suicide attacks, said Taj Uddin, spokesman for Afghanistan's counterterrorism department.

The nine were arrested Friday in the eastern Logar province and transferred to Kabul for questioning.

"We have reports that four suicide bombers were aided by this group and coming from Logar," said Uddin. He had no details on whether the group was linked to Friday's suicide bombing in Kabul that killed at least 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers.

Logar province tribesmen rejected the claim that the detainees, including a teenager and an elderly man, were part of a militant cell.

"They had a dispute with a man in their village, who accused them of being involved with suicide bombings," said Haji Alkum, who traveled from Logar to Kabul to try ensure their release. "They were shepherds, not terrorists."

Police also confiscated several Iranian, Chinese and Russian-made weapons, including machine guns, bomb-making materials and thousands of rounds of ammunition, from a house in the province allegedly linked to the nine, Uddin said.

American and Afghan soldiers also detained nine suspected terrorists belonging to the radical Hezb-e-Islami group of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Al Qaeda network of Usama bin Laden, the U.S. military said.

Two men suspected of being midlevel commanders of the Hezb-e-Islami militant group in the eastern Khost province area of Gorcak, a coalition statement said.

One was a suspected bomb-making expert linked to attacks in the Shembawot Bazaar village in Gurbuz district, a May bombing of an Afghan army checkpoint in Khulbesat and the July murder of an Afghan army lieutenant colonel.

Seven other militants, including a Hezb-e-Islami commander, were arrested Monday in eastern Nangarhar province, the U.S. military said. The other six were suspected Al Qaeda members, but no further details were available on their identities.

Separately in Wardak province, west of Kabul, police surrounded a fortified compound at about 3 a.m. and arrested 12 Taliban, including the head of the cell who hailed from Helmand, said provincial police chief Gen. Mahbubullah Amiri.

NATO said its soldiers captured seven suspected insurgents and disrupted supply and communication routes through Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Taliban forces also attacked a police checkpoint near the district chief's office in Daychopan district of southern Zabul province on Monday, said provincial police chief Noor Mohammed Paktim. One militant was killed and three wounded.

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