updated 5/26/2007 9:15:52 AM ET 2007-05-26T13:15:52

An explosion during a fight with Taliban militants killed a British soldier in southern Afghanistan Saturday, while U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces detained a Taliban commander and two suspected al-Qaida militants in the east, officials said.

British troops using artillery, mortar and small arms fire destroyed a Taliban stronghold on the outskirts of Garmsir in Helmand province, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said. During the operation, an explosion killed one soldier and wounded four, including three who had to be evacuated by helicopter.

On Friday, a roadside bomb explosion killed a Canadian soldier during a joint Canadian-Afghan patrol in the Zhari district of Kandahar province. Another Canadian soldier and an Afghan interpreter were injured.

Bloody toll
The deaths Friday and Saturday brought to 56 the number of U.S. and NATO troops killed in Afghanistan this year.

In the southern province of Helmand, seven Taliban fighters, including two local commanders, were killed in a joint coalition-Afghan operation in Gereshk district on Friday, the Interior Ministry said.

The Taliban commander, detained in Nangarhar province by coalition forces and Afghan border police, headed a roadside bomb cell responsible for killing and injuring Afghans, the coalition said in a statement.

The suspect, Sayed Gulab, had “extensive connections” with other senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Nangarhar and Pakistan, it said. He was detained on Thursday and was being held in a coalition facility.

“The detention of Sayed Gulab will lead to information on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders, including their operations within Nangarhar and neighboring provinces,” said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.

Raid nets al-Qaida suspects
The two suspected al-Qaida militants were seized in a raid Saturday in Khost province that also discovered two fragmentation grenades and an anti-personnel mine, the coalition said.

“We are continuing to identify and destroy pockets of al-Qaida militants throughout the country,” Belcher said.

More than 1,800 people have died as insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan has spiked this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.

Gen. Mohammad Doud, an Interior Ministry official in charge of the ministry’s counternarcotics work, said 17 Afghan police and one policeman on the country’s eradication force have been killed during the government’s eradication efforts this year, mostly in the southern provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan by militants using bomb, rocket and gunfire attacks.

The forces have eradicated some 64,250 acres of poppies this year compared with 39,000 acres last year, he said.

Officials say they expect from 407,715 acres to 482,000 acres of poppies to be cultivated this year. Last year poppy farmers cultivated 407,715 acres, which yielded enough opium poppies to make more heroin than the world’s addicts consume.

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