NATO troops kill at least 85 Taliban militants in Afghanistan

Afghan and NATO troops killed five suspected Taliban fighters, after a roadside bomb left three police dead in resumed bloodshed in the volatile south of Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The five militants were killed and another six wounded in the Musa Qala district of southern Helmand province on Sunday, said Ghulam Muhaddin, the provincial governor's spokesman.

Some 71 militants were also slain in fierce NATO-backed fighting that began late Saturday and spilled into Sunday after the Taliban attacked a police convoy in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, said Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, the district government chief.

A separate clash with insurgents Sunday left one British soldier dead and three others wounded in Helmand, Britain's Defense Ministry said. The death brought to 20 the number of British soldiers killed since they were deployed to Afghanistan in November 2001.

Also in Helmand, a roadside bomb Sunday killed three policemen traveling on the main highway linking Murja and Lashkar Gah districts, said Muhaddin, who blamed Taliban militants.

Afghanistan's southern provinces are bearing the brunt of the worst bout of violence since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in 2001. Taliban holdouts and allied extremists have stepped up attacks in a bid to undermine the American-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

The bodies of 71 slain militants were found in three locations in Panjwayi, scattered through orchards alongside their weapons, an Afghan official said.

NATO troops, who recently took military command of the south, used artillery and aircraft to inflict "heavy casualties against Taliban fighters," an alliance statement said.

NATO spokesman Maj. Toby Jackman called the clash part of an ongoing operation "to extend security" along the 420-kilometer (260-mile) highway between Kabul and Kandahar.

Four police and one Afghan soldier were also killed, while three police and five soldiers were wounded, officials said. Three police were missing.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, claimed insurgents killed "scores" of police and damaged 10 police vehicles before a NATO airstrike. Ahmadi often contacts journalists to claim attacks for the Taliban, but his exact ties to the militia's leadership are unclear, the AP says.

The British paratrooper died from injuries sustained during fighting Sunday in Sangin, an insurgent stronghold about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Panjwayi, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. His identity has not been released.

Britain has about 3,600 troops in Helmand as part of a NATO force and has announced plans to increase its numbers to 4,500 soldiers by October.

NATO took command of southern Afghanistan from the United States on July 31. The U.S.-led coalition is now focusing on its attention on eastern Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and Taliban are also active.

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