updated 9/13/2004 12:19:28 PM ET 2004-09-13T16:19:28

U.S. forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 22 insurgents, including several Arabs, in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Monday.

The 12-hour battle began late Sunday in Shinkay district of Zabul province, a hotbed of resistance to the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the military said.

Spokesman Maj. Scott Nelson said about 40 militants attacked coalition soldiers on a search operation in Shinkay. The troops called for assistance from two Apache helicopters, which opened fire on the fighters.

“Skirmishes continued throughout the night, and the final battle damage assessment from the incident, from our soldiers on the ground, was 22,” Nelson said.

Three Arabs killed, one captured
Among the dead were three Arabs, the spokesman said. Another Arab was among three people arrested. No coalition forces were hurt, he said.

The U.S. forces seized a global positioning system, a video camera with tapes, four grenades and two assault rifles, he said.

Nelson declined to give the Arab fighters’ nationalities, or say what was on the tapes.
Guerrillas loyal to the former ruling Taliban and their al-Qaida allies are active in southern and eastern Afghanistan, despite the presence of 18,000 coalition forces who have been hunting for terrorist suspects since late 2001.

In another clash Sunday, Nelson said Taliban gunmen ambushed a coalition patrol near the southern city of Kandahar. American soldiers returned fire without stopping.

“We engaged with them, but the number that were killed of the Taliban, I’m not sure,” he said. No Americans were reported hurt.

Surge of violence expected prior to election
Officials are forecasting a surge in violence in the run-up to Oct. 9 presidential elections, seen as crucial in Afghanistan’s transition to democracy after a quarter-century of conflict. The Taliban have vowed to sabotage the polls.

Zabul, a rugged and remote region largely off-limits to foreign aid workers because of the security risk, has been the scene of much of the heaviest fighting in the past year, as the Taliban-led rebels have stepped up attacks.

In May and June, scores of insurgents were killed in fighting with U.S. and Afghan government forces, and since then there have been repeated smaller-scale clashes and rebel raids on Afghan government targets and security forces.

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