Up to 30 insurgents killed in clashes in Afghanistan ahead of parliamentary vote

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Up to 30 insurgents have been killed in fighting in Afghanistan ahead of this week's parliamentary elections, which the Taliban want to undermine, NATO and Afghan officials said.

The military alliance said that up to 23 militants were killed in action in southern Helmand province Monday and three in eastern Wardak province Tuesday. An Afghan official said four Taliban were killed Tuesday in southeastern Zabul province.

There were no reports of casualties among joint NATO-Afghan forces.

Attacks and clashes are rising amid an allied offensive aimed at suppressing the continuing Taliban insurgency.

Meanwhile, tensions were rising ahead of Saturday's parliamentary elections. The Taliban has vowed to target polling stations and warned Afghans not to participate in what it calls a sham vote.

NATO said the coalition forces killed three "known manufacturers" of improvised explosive devices in Wardak, just west of capital Kabul.

"The removal of these criminals effectively removed a potential threat to the people of Afghanistan," Lt. Col. Dan Morgan, Regional Command-East chief of operations, said in a statement. "We will continue to work with our Afghan partners to provide a secure environment for the upcoming elections."

The insurgents want to oust the pro-West Afghan government and drive foreign troops out of the country, and have sought to sabotage all aspects of the political process, including elections.

The government and its Western allies hope the ballot for the lower house of parliament will help consolidate the country's shaky democracy, eventually leading to the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country.

On Tuesday, U.N. envoy for Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura said the upcoming elections "are not going to be perfect." But, he expressed hope they would be better than last year's presidential vote which was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and irregularities.

"Security is the biggest concern before these elections," de Mistura said. "Let's remember we are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan at the most critical period of the conflict."

NATO said the coalition forces were attacked on three separate occasions during a patrol in the Sangin district of Helmand province on Monday. The forces responded with airstrikes, mortars, rocket and machine gun fire, killing up to 23 insurgents.

The allied forces stopped firing when women and children moved into the compound from where the insurgent fire had originated, NATO said.

Civilian deaths in NATO military operations are a major source of contention between the alliance and Afghanistan's government, even though the United Nations says the insurgents are responsible for most civilian deaths and injuries.

Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, spokesman for the provincial governor of Zabul, said four militants were killed and four caught alive with explosive material on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, 13 people were wounded in an explosion in the capital of the western province of Herat after a concert by Afghan rock star Farhad Darya, local health official Ghulam Zaid Rashid said.

Witnesses said a bomb planted on a motorbike went off in a parking lot as thousands of people were leaving the concert held at a packed stadium in the Herat city. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.

A statement issued late Tuesday by Darya's managers said the bomb exploded opposite the governor's building and was meant to be a warning to governmental authorities; members of the Afghan security force were among those injured.