updated 2/4/2006 4:15:17 AM ET 2006-02-04T09:15:17

Fighting raged across southern Afghanistan on Saturday with attacks on government offices and a police convoy killing a district chief and 14 others — raising the death toll from two days of battles to 36, officials said.

Government officials said more than 200 rebels were fighting 250 police and Afghan soldiers, as well as U.S. forces, making it the biggest battle this year in Afghanistan.

American war planes bombed suspected Taliban militants before dawn Saturday, killing eight of them, said Khan Mohammed, a police chief in Helmand province.

At the same time, militants attacked a government office in Helmand province’s Musaqala district, killing the government chief and wounding four police, said Amir Mohammed Akhund, deputy governor of southern Helmand province.

Hours later, insurgents attacked the main government office in neighboring Nauzad district, setting off a two-hour gunbattle that left one policeman and three suspected Taliban dead, he said.

Police convoy struck
Militants used a remote-controlled bomb to attack a police convoy in Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan and a former Taliban stronghold, said Sher Mohammed, a police officer.

A district police chief in the convoy was unhurt, but a woman and a child who were walking in the area were killed, and three other passers-by were wounded, he said.

The toll from the initial fighting in Helmand on Friday rose to five police and 16 insurgents dead, and 16 police wounded, Akhund said.

Kandahar and Helmand are hotbeds of the anti-government insurgency and the drug trade, underlining the challenges that will face NATO peacekeepers from Britain and Canada who are set to deploy there later this year to take over from U.S. forces.

Four years after the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime, its militant supporters are still fighting the U.S.-backed central government, particularly in the volatile south and east of the country. Last year, more than 1,600 people died in the violence, the highest death toll since 2001.

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