KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Afghan security forces surrounded Taliban fighters hiding in a village in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, launching a gunbattle that killed at least three militants and a police officer.
Elsewhere in the region, Taliban militants attacked an Afghan construction company working for coalition forces, killing a security guard.
The fighting came as visiting British Defense Secretary John Reid said coalition troops must maintain their offensive against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to prevent their return to power.
"The greatest danger of all for the people of Afghanistan and the people of the United Kingdom would be if Afghanistan ever again came under the rule of a Taliban regime prepared to protect Al Qaeda or terrorist groups," Reid told reporters in the capital, Kabul.
Afghan police and soldiers fought Taliban militants in the volatile Gelan district of southern Ghazni province about 75 miles southwest of Kabul, said provincial Gov. Haji Sher Alam. Three Taliban fighters and a policeman were killed, he told The Associated Press.
The attack on the construction company occurred on the Uruzgan-Kandahar highway near a southern Kandahar village where four Canadian soldiers were killed in a suspected Taliban roadside bombing a day earlier.
A group of heavily armed militants waged a two-hour attack against the headquarters of the Thavazoo company in Shah Wali Kot district, about 25 miles north of Kandahar city, said Haji Mohammed Youssef, the company's director.
One guard was killed and two were wounded before the remaining security personnel fled, Youssef said. The Taliban fighters then entered the compound, burned 14 trucks and bulldozers and stole equipment before escaping.
Youssef said coalition forces gave him a contract to build a 25-mile stretch of road.
"Coalition forces are giving us money to help rebuild our country, but the enemies of Afghanistan don't want us to succeed," he told The AP.
On Saturday, U.S. and Afghan soldiers arrested 16 Taliban members in two raids in the southern Zabul province, which neighbors Kandahar, local Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmattalluh Roufi said Sunday.
"The Americans are questioning them now to see if they are important Taliban members or not," Roufi told the AP.
It was unclear if the arrests or the Taliban attack on the construction company were linked to the killing of the four Canadian soldiers, the deadliest attack on that nation's troops since they deployed here in 2002.
Militants have stepped up attacks against coalition and Afghan forces, particularly across southern Afghanistan, in a bid to derail reconstruction efforts four years after a U.S.-led military force toppled the Taliban regime for harboring Usama bin Laden.
Rising violence is a growing concern for nations contributing troops to a force operating here under a NATO mandate. The force is to rise from its current 10,000 soldiers to about 21,000 by November as it gradually assumes command of all international troops in Afghanistan.
Some 6,000 mainly British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers have started deploying in remote tribal-dominated southern region.
Britain's deployment coincides with its taking control of the NATO mission in May for three years.