Taliban takes control of 2 southern towns; coalition, Afghan soldiers killed

Taliban takes control of 2 southern towns; coalition, Afghan soldiers killed

Eds: AMs

By PAUL GARWOOD

Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Taliban militants seized two towns in tumultuous southern Afghanistan, forcing police and government officials to flee, officials said Monday.

Large numbers of militants chased out police after a brief clash in the town of Naway-i-Barakzayi, in Helmand province near the Pakistan border, a local police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

Scores of Taliban forces overran police holed up Sunday in a compound in the nearby Helmand town of Garmser. The security forces and a handful of government officials fled, a local government official said.

The official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the media, said Taliban forces were now “moving freely” around the Garmser and the surrounding district.

“We have heard reports of two districts in southern Helmand being under control of the Taliban, and we are in contact with lots of people to build an accurate picture,” said another coalition spokesman, Maj. Scott Lundy.

“The Taliban are a credible threat, but the coalition is more than a match for them when and wherever we encounter them,” he said.

British military spokesman Capt. Drew Gibson confirmed enemy “activity” in both areas but declined to elaborate. More than 3,000 British soldiers are deploying to Helmand to take over security control from U.S. forces later this month.

Taliban forces killed a coalition soldier and wounded 11 others in a fierce battle Monday in Tirin Kot, capital of Helmand’s neighboring Uruzgan province, a U.S. statement said. The nationalities of the soldiers were not released.

Thousands of U.S.-led troops are battling Taliban holdouts and allied extremists in remote southern and eastern provinces to curb the deadliest upsurge in violence since the hard-line militia was ousted in late 2001.

More than 800 people, mostly militants, have been killed since May, according to an Associated Press tally of coalition and Afghan figures.

U.S.-led troops entering southern insurgent hotbeds for the first time are facing intense resistance.

In other violence:

A suicide bomber killed the top two Justice Ministry officials and another employee inside the ministry’s office building in the capital of Helmand province, police said.

Three Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in the same province.

In eastern Afghanistan, U.S.-led troops killed four suspected al-Qaida members, including Arab and Chechen fighters, after raiding their hideout.

Associated Press writer Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.