Troops working to secure next month's Afghan elections kill 40 Taliban militants near capital

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan and international forces have killed an estimated 40 Taliban fighters east of the Afghan capital Kabul as part of operations to provide security ahead of parliamentary elections next month, NATO said Tuesday.

Two coalition servicemen, including one American, were killed in fighting in the volatile south where the insurgency is most heavily entrenched, the coalition reported. The other soldier's nationality was not identified.

A total of 49 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month, including 31 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Fighting in Kabul province began Friday, involving Afghan, U.S. and French troops and both air and ground assaults, the coalition said. Eight Taliban leaders were captured and a large quantity of explosives and other weapons destroyed, it said.

Troops were taking the fight to the insurgents in an area where they "used to feel pretty secure operating in," Brig. Gen. Steve Townsend, the U.S. deputy commander in eastern Afghanistan, was quoted as saying in a news release.

No coalition casualties have been reported in the operation, NATO said.

Insurgents have attacked government workers and threatened voters to derail Afghanistan's electoral process. Despite heavy security for presidential polls last year, turnout was low and the result marred by allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Elections for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament are scheduled for Sept. 18.

Heavy fighting overnight was also reported in the southwestern provinces of Nimroz and Uruzgan, adjoining the insurgent strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Numerous Taliban were killed, but the Afghan police and army managed to avoid casualties, according to an army news release and Nimroz police chief Abdul Jabbar Pardali.

In Helmand's Nad Ali district, one policeman and one insurgent were killed in a gunbattle, local police reported.

Also Tuesday, NATO said it was investigating allegations that eight civilians were killed and 12 injured in a coalition raid on a remote mountain village in the northern province of Baghlan.

The chief of Baghlan's Tala Wabarfak district, Mohammad Ismail, said the deaths — six men, one woman, and one child — reportedly came in the early hours of Sunday morning in the village of Tergaran.

Villagers told him troops flown in aboard five or six helicopters also destroyed several houses during the five-hour operation, Ismail said. Two people were reportedly arrested and taken away he said, adding that Taliban have on occasion been active in the area, a 10-hour walk from the nearest town over which the government exercises little influence.

NATO said U.S. troops fired warning shots on Monday to disperse a protest near the main coalition air base in Afghanistan over the arrest of a religious leader suspected of a rocket attack.

The alliance said no civilian injuries were reported from the demonstration, but Gen. Faqir Ahmad, the deputy police chief of Parwan province, said one civilian was killed by gunfire from an unknown source.

NATO said about 300 people surrounded a patrol and attacked vehicles with rocks and iron bars outside Bagram air base, which is located in Parwan.

"After several attempts to stop the attack and disperse the crowd, coalition troops received small-arms fire directed at them," NATO said in a news release. Coalition forces then fired the warning shots.

Gen. Ahmad said the coalition firing enraged the crowd with some then using rocks and sticks to attack police and the head of the district government, Kabir Ahmad, who had tried to calm the situation. The deputy police chief said Ahmad and a police officer had serious but not life-threatening injuries.

The man arrested Monday by Afghan police was a Muslim teacher suspected of taking part in a rocket attack on a coalition patrol two weeks ago, Gen. Ahmad said. About 50 students from his religious school began the protest, which then attracted up to 2,000 villagers, he said.

Such protests among Afghan civilians often center on claims that U.S. or other international forces killed innocent civilians. NATO says some accusations are unfounded and accuses the Taliban and its sympathizers of inciting demonstrators.