Releads with Afghan governor claims 150 rebels killed, adds blast wounds 17 children in northern region

Kabul_(dpa) _ Coalition forces killed at least 12 suspected Taliban militants in a southern town, while the provincial governor said that more than 150 militants were killed by the combined forces in the past week.

The US military said Tuesday a dozen militants were killed in Garmsir district of volatile southern Helmand province on Monday during a search operation by US-led coalition forces that targeted a Taliban commander.

The targeted commander was involved in conducting weapon supply operations in the area, it said.

The combined forces were fired at as they entered the area, the statement said, adding the joint troops responded "with small-arms fire and airstrikes."

Multiple rocket propelled grenade, machineguns, AK-47s, cases of ammunition and two mortars, were seized from the targeted house.

Gulab Mangal, provincial governor for Helmand province, meanwhile said that more than 150 militants, including foreign fighters were killed in the district in the past week in a fight with the combined forces.

"Several Chechen, Uzbek, Arab and Pakistani fighters were among those who were killed in Garmsir district," Mangal told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

He said that the NATO-led operation had been ongoing in the district for past two weeks, but major clashes happened only during the past week.

He said that there were more than 500 militants, including foreign fighters in and around Garmsir district, which was controlled by the Taliban insurgents until late last month.

Afghan officials also confirmed on Tuesday that thousands of residents in Garmsir district had left their houses in fear of airstrikes by international forces since the start of the NATO-led operation in the district on April 28.

International military airstrikes in the past have left dozens of civilians dead in southern Afghanistan when foreign forces bombarded the areas where suspected militants were hiding.

Shamsuddin Sarhadi, spokesman for Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation said that around 900 families - accounting for more than 5,000 people - had left their homes in Garmsir district and most of them were now in a camp receiving assistance from the Afghan government and United Nations.

Mangal said that only "some families" left their houses in Garmsir district, adding that the government and NATO forces were ready to compensate those whose houses or properities were destroyed during the latest operation.

In order to contain the Taliban militants during the spring and summer, the two fighting seasons in the southern region, more than 3,500 US Marines were deployed in southern Afghanistan to assist the British and Canadian forces, who are based there as part of some 50,000 NATO-led troops in the area.

Since the start of operation, which is aimed to extend the Afghan government's influence in Garmsir district, the NATO forces comprised mainly of US and British soldiers, have claimed several victories in their operations, in which scores of militants and their supporters were killed, while several weapons caches were discovered and destroyed.

Turbulent Helmand is the largest opium producing province in the Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents are also the most active. Afghanistan supplies over 90 per cent of world's opiate.

In northern Baghlan district, in the province of the same name, on Tuesday morning, an old mortar shell exploded, while a child was exchanging it for ice cream with a scrap metal dealer, according to Khalilullah Narmgoy, the head of a government-run hospital in the province.

The boy dropped the mortar shell and the explosion injured that 17 children and a man were injured, Narmgoy said.

In a separate incident, the US military said in a statement that one of their helicopters made a "hard landing" in north-east Nuristan province on Monday night.

The cause of the crash was being investigated, it said, adding that there were no casualties due to the crash.

Some 17 US service-members were killed in a helicopter crash in eastern Kunar province in June 2005. dpa fp pw


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