Image: Body of a Taliban militant loaded onto vehicle
Abdul Qodus  /  Reuters
Afghans load a body of a Taliban militant killed by Afghan and NATO-led forces, onto a vehicle at a hospital in Lashkar Gah Oct. 12.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/12/2008 2:44:26 AM ET 2008-10-12T06:44:26

Taliban militants launched a surprise attack on a key southern Afghan city Sunday sparking a battle that killed some 60 insurgents, an Afghan official said. Other clashes in the region left 40 militants dead.

Taliban fighters used rockets and heavy weapons to attack Afghan forces on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's governor.

Militants attacked the city from three sides just after midnight, and were pushed back only after a battle that involved airstrikes, Ahmadi said.

Rockets landed in different parts of the city, but there were no civilian casualties, he said.

Authorities recovered the bodies of 41 Taliban fighters on the city's outskirts, said Ahmadi. Citing intelligence reports, he estimated the bodies of another 20 fighters were taken from the battle site by militants.

A Taliban leader, Mullah Qudratullah, was also among the dead, Ahmadi said. There were no casualties among the Afghan and NATO forces.

British forces are responsible for protecting the area around Lashkar Gah.

In a second battle in Helmand province, Afghan and international troops retook the Nad Ali district center — which had been held by militants — during a three-day fight, Ahmadi said. That battle, which also involved airstrikes, ended Saturday.

Afghan police and soldiers were now in control of the district center. There were no casualties among Afghan or NATO troops, Ahmadi said.

Death tolls unverified
Ahmadi's death tolls could not be verified independently and journalists are not able to travel to the remote and dangerous battle sites. Afghan officials have been known to exaggerate death tolls in the past.

The NATO-led force said it was aware of fighting in Helmand, but could not provide any information.

Helmand province is the largest drug-producing area in the world, and the region alone accounts for more than half of Afghanistan's production of opium poppies.

More than 90 percent of the world's opium is produced in Afghanistan, and up to US$100 million of the trade's profits are used to finance the Taliban insurgency.

Insurgency-related violence has killed more than 4,700 people — mostly militants — this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

A roadside bomb, meanwhile, struck a civilian vehicle traveling in Shamulzai district of Zabul province on Sunday, killing five people, said Ghulab Shah Alikheil, a provincial official.

Alikheil blamed Taliban militants for planting the bomb.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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