Image: Member of Afghan Public Protection Force
Rafiq Maqbool  /  AP
On a windswept hill tucked between snowcapped Hindu Kush mountains, a ragtag force of farmers, students and other unemployed men snap to attention. After three weeks of training, the newest of the Afghan Public Protection Force was on display at a graduation ceremony in the Jalrez district of the central Afghan Wardak province, on Tuesday.
updated 4/2/2009 7:49:28 AM ET 2009-04-02T11:49:28

Afghan and U.S. coalition troops battled a large group of militants in southern Afghanistan before calling in an airstrike that killed 20 insurgents, the coalition said in a statement Thursday.

Dozens of insurgents attacked the joint foot patrol in Helmand province's Kajaki district Wednesday, the statement said.

Following a firefight, the militants were forced into "secondary fighting position" before the combined patrol called in an airstrike that hit the militants, the statement said.

"Twenty militants were killed in the engagement," the statement said.

A series of clashes in the same region on Tuesday killed 31 militants.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, but also the world's largest producer of opium. According to the U.N., hundreds of millions of dollars from the illicit trade are used to fund the insurgency

Violence in Afghanistan is expected to surge this year. The United States is sending 21,000 additional forces — most of whom are going to the south — to bolster the record 38,000 American troops already in the country in an attempt to tamp down an increasingly bloody Taliban insurgency.

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