Afghan police and U.S. troops kill three Taliban

22/03/2008 - 15:25

By Goran Tomasevic

SHAJOY, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police backed byU.S. troops killed three Taliban fighters and captured threemore in a 40-minute gun battle in southern Afghanistan onSaturday, a Reuters witness said.

The fire fight erupted after some 40 Afghan policeofficers, backed by a small team of U.S. mentors entered avillage in the Shajoy district of Zabul province.

Taliban fighters fired on the troops before retreating to anearby hill on motorcycles. The police and U.S. mentors chasedthe militants and surrounded them.

At the end of the battle, three Taliban were killed andthree were captured, one of them wounded.

The United States is pressing its NATO allies to come upwith more troops for Afghanistan at an alliance summit inBucharest in early April. But all sides agree that building upthe Afghan army and police is the key to long-term keystability.

The Afghan army is relatively well trained and equipped,but NATO has only filled 33 of 71 projected teams to bring thearmy from its current 50,000 troops to a target strength of80,000.

The Afghan police has lagged far behind however. Officersare notoriously corrupt and often flee isolated outposts in theface of better armed Taliban militants.

The United States budgeted $2.5 billion for training andequipping the Afghan police through last year, and while thereis also a big shortage of foreign trainers and mentors, theforce is slowly improving, officials say.

The latest clash took place in the same province where aRomanian soldier was killed by an explosion on Thursday.

Afghan police also killed three Taliban commanders andtheir two bodyguards in the southern province of Uruzgan onThursday, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

The Afghan army killed one Taliban militant in the southernprovince of Kandahar, the Defence Ministry said.

In northern Afghanistan, the governor of Khanaqa districtin Jowzjan province was killed in a knife attack on Saturday, aprovincial spokesman said, blaming Taliban insurgents.

Afghan officials have often been the target of Talibanattacks since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Islamistmovement in late 2001. Insurgents killed the commander of thehighway police in Kunduz province in the north on Friday,provincial police said.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide attacks andtargeted dozens of government officials last year in theircampaign to overthrow the pro-Western government and eject the50,000 foreign troops from the country.

(Additional reporting by Tahir Qadiry; Writing by JonHemming; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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