KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – U.S.-led coalition and Afghan security forces clashed with suspected Taliban insurgents Thursday in southern Afghanistan, and a subsequent airstrike killed up to 35 militants, officials said.
Two Canadian soldiers were also killed Wednesday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan as NATO military leaders met in Canada to ask for more resources for their fight in the volatile south.
The U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces clashed with suspected Taliban fighters early Thursday near caves northeast of Qalat city in Zabul province, the U.S. coalition said in a statement.
The joint forces tracked several Taliban who fled the area on motorcycles. The forces requested an airstrike that left 24 militants dead and destroyed two caves and 14 motorcycles, the coalition said. A weapons cache was found during a subsequent search of the caves.
There were no reports of any Afghan or coalition troops wounded or killed in the incident, said Maj. William Mitchell, a coalition spokesman.
Ali Kheil, a spokesman for Zabul's governor, said the incident occurred in Zabul's Shahjoy district and that the Afghan forces were ambushed and battled militants for about an hour before an airstrike was called on militant positions.
Authorities recovered the bodies of 35 militants along with 20 motorbikes and the militants' weapons, Kheil said, adding that no casualties were reported among the Afghan security forces. The differing death tolls could not immediately be reconciled.
Separately, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in Zabul's Shinkay district killed a policeman and wounded four others late Wednesday, Kheil said.
Also Wednesday, a bomb blast in the south killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded three others, said Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan.
Cessford did not disclose the exact location of the attack. Most of the Canadian troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan are based in the volatile southern province of Kandahar.
The blast occurred three days after a roadside bomb killed six Canadian troops in the south. It was the single worst combat loss in Afghanistan for the Canadians, who have lost 53 soldiers and a diplomat in the country, according to the Canadian military.
There are about 2,500 Canadian troops in the 36,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan.
As NATO pushes forward with its biggest-ever anti-Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Canada on Thursday to press allies to contribute more forces, equipment and other resources to Afghanistan.
Gates was set to meet with military leaders from Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania — all partners in southern Afghanistan.
NATO and the U.S. have made repeated calls for additional resources from allies, but have met resistance from some, including the French and Germans, who questioned the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan.
Each year Taliban fighters have stepped up their attacks as the spring thaw begins. But this year, Gates said NATO should take the offensive and bring the fight first to the militants.
The initial phase of the assault began last month with Operation Achilles, in which more than 5,500 NATO and Afghan troops went into the opium-producing province of Helmand to battle hardcore Taliban insurgents.