British, Afghan Troops Battle Taliban Holdouts

British and Afghan forces battled Taliban holdouts Thursday after repelling a brazen insurgent attack on a police headquarters a day earlier in a southern Afghan town, killing at least 19 militants, a local official said.

Coalition forces also killed a local Taliban commander and captured two extremists in a separate clash in southern Afghanistan, where thousands of foreign troops are trying crush a resurgent militant campaign, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Some 200 militants, driving four-wheel-drive vehicles, poured into the Helmand provincial town of Nawzad around midday Wednesday and set up positions around a police compound where Afghan soldiers and police, along with coalition forces, were based, spokesman Ghulam Muhiddin said.

"The Taliban surrounded this area, including a nearby bazaar, and told all their shopkeepers to leave before attacking the compound with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades," Muhiddin told The Associated Press.

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Soldiers and Afghan forces inside the compound returned fire, said coalition spokeswoman Capt. Julie Roberge. Coalition warplanes launched several airstrikes, killing 12 militants in a vehicle and another seven near the compound, Muhiddin said.

British spokesman Capt. Drew Gibson said coalition aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs on two Taliban targets in Nawzad, including a machine-gun position that was destroyed. He had no details on militant casualties.

The attack was one of the largest since a March 29 Taliban raid on a coalition base in Helmand's Sangin district that left more than 30 militants and a U.S. and Canadian soldier dead.

"We have gone right into the Taliban's territory and reduced their freedom of movement and that has provoked a reaction," Gibson said. "When you rattle cages, you are going to get a reaction."

In neighboring Musa Qala district, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at coalition troops, who returned fire and killed local Taliban commander Mullah Saeef, the U.S. military said. Two insurgents, including one who was wounded, were captured in the fighting Wednesday.

Two coalition forces were slightly wounded in an ambush in Kunar province's Pech River Valley Wednesday, said military spokeswoman Lt. Tamara Lawrence.

Coalition forces are in the midst of a large-scale anti-Taliban offensive across southern Afghanistan. More than 10,000 U.S., Canadian, British and Afghan troops are trying to crush the deadliest spike of Taliban-led violence since the hardline regime was toppled in 2001.

More than 700 people, mainly insurgents, have been killed since coalition forces began the offensive in mid-May. More than 20 coalition soldiers have died in the same time.

Coalition forces have been entering volatile southern regions where Taliban militants have long faced little resistance. The operation comes ahead of NATO's scheduled assumption of control of military operations from the United States across the south.

In southern Zabul province, three Afghan border guards were killed in a clash Wednesday with armed tribesmen crossing from Pakistan, border guard chief Jailani Khan said Thursday.

Armed men in a convoy of cars carrying about 200 members of the Nasser tribe crossed into the Shamalzai district and fired on border guards trying to stop them, Khan said. He said he didn't know if there were any casualties among the tribespeople.

Separately, a bomb rigged to a hand-powered tricycle for the disabled exploded and wounded four people in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif early Thursday, said local police official Nasseruddin Hamdad. It was unclear who was behind the attack.

Bombings in largely calm northern Afghanistan have been relatively rare compared to the south.