At Least Four Suspected Taliban Killed

Government forces fought hundreds of suspected Taliban (search) insurgents in central Afghanistan (search), killing four guerrillas and arresting 13, local officials said Saturday. At least four government soldiers died, the officials said.

The fighting late Friday in a mountainous district of Uruzgan (search) province broke out after authorities launched a campaign to hunt down suspected rebels, said Abdul Rahim, a provincial government official.

Uruzgan Gov. Mohammed Khan estimated government forces fought as many as 300 suspected Taliban for about four hours before the rebels retreated into the mountains. One government soldier was also wounded, he said.

The province lies about 190 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul (search).

In a satellite telephone call, a man identifying himself as Mohammed Hanif (search), the spokesman for wanted Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah (search), told The Associated Press that 30 government soldiers were killed. He said their bodies were returned after negotiations with village elders.

He said Taliban fighters detained 10 government fighters.

It was not possible to independently confirm the caller's identity or his information.

Gov. Khan disputed those casualty figures, saying four government troops died and none was captured. He said four suspected Taliban were killed and 13 arrested. The situation was calm on Saturday, he said.

Stepped up attacks in Afghanistan against the government have been blamed on the hardline Islamic militia, ousted in late 2001 by U.S.-led forces.

In recent months there have been reports that the Taliban are regrouping and reorganizing. Some of the reports say the Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has divided the country into military zones and appointed commanders to each zone.

The reports say Dadullah is one of the commanders that is to operate in Uruzgan province, considered a strong pro-Taliban region of Afghanistan dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, like most former Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said his government is seeking Dadullah's arrest, along with several other senior Taliban commanders who his administration fears may have found safe a haven in Pakistan's conservative tribal zones.

Dadullah has been identified by witnesses as the man who ordered the shooting earlier this year of International Red Cross worker Ricardo Munguia in southern Helmand province.