updated 6/19/2005 12:50:15 PM ET 2005-06-19T16:50:15

Fighting raged across southern Afghanistan on Sunday, with the U.S. military killing up to 20 suspected Taliban fighters along a narrow mountain footpath, and rebels firing rockets into the main southern city of Kandahar.

A Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, claimed his fighters had assassinated a kidnapped Afghan police chief and five of his men for collaborating with the U.S.-led coalition.

The airstrikes occurred Sunday morning along a narrow footpath in the high mountains northwest of Gereshk, in southern Helmand province, after rebels had pinned down a coalition ground patrol with rocket and small-arms fire.

"Initial battle-damage assessments indicate 15 to 20 enemies died and an enemy vehicle was destroyed," the Army said in a statement. No U.S. soldiers were wounded.

Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, added a warning to the insurgents.

"When these criminals engage coalition forces, they do so at considerable risk," he said. "We are not going to let up on them. There is not going to be a safe haven in Afghanistan."

Number of dead could rise
O'Hara told The Associated Press that additional U.S. and Afghan forces had been sent to the scene, and that the numbers of rebel dead could rise.

Three months of bloodshed across the south and east has left hundreds dead, and sparked fears that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down.

Afghan and American officials have warned they expect more bloodshed ahead of key parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

In other violence Sunday, three rockets smashed into the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, jolting residents but causing no casualties.

One of the rockets hit an empty lot near the former home of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar which now houses U.S. special forces troops, said Gen. Salim Khan, the deputy police chief. The other two hit elsewhere in the city.

Khan blamed Taliban rebels for the attack, which occurred at about 3 a.m.

"The one rocket hit right next to Mullah Omar's home, and two other rockets hit fields in Kandahar city," said Khan. "The Taliban did this. Nobody else would do such a thing."

U.S. troops cordoned off the area next to Mullah Omar's old home, keeping residents and journalists a good distance away.

Three shot dead
And in Helmand, gunmen shot to death three men -- a judge, an intelligence worker and an employee of the provincial education department -- said Haji Mohammed Wali, a spokesman for the governor.

He said it was not clear whether the Taliban or some other armed group was behind the Saturday night attack.

Elsewhere, a land mine exploded on a road in Khost, damaging a vehicle. Mohammed Ayub, chief of police in the province, said the mine was rigged to explode via remote control, and that the target was a U.N. vehicle.

But Adrian Edwards, the United Nations spokesman in Afghanistan, said no U.N. vehicles were in the province at the time of the attack early Sunday.

In a victory for Afghan forces and the coalition, national army troops captured Hazrat Ali, the former Taliban intelligence and information chief in central Ghazni province, said Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Murat. No soldiers were hurt in the operation Friday in Gelam district, Murat said.

Meanwhile, purported Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi claimed responsibility for the ambush of a police convoy in southern Afghanistan earlier this week, and said insurgents had killed a district police chief and five of his men after taking them captive.

Mullah Latif Hakimi said five other officers taken captive in the Thursday ambush were alive. He said the men would be tried, and that Taliban justice would determine their fate.

Hakimi often calls news organizations to claim responsibility for attacks on behalf of the Taliban. His information has sometimes proven untrue or exaggerated, and his exact tie to the group's leadership is unclear.

About 260 suspected rebels and 29 U.S. troops have been killed since March, according to Afghan and U.S. officials. About three dozen Afghan police and soldiers have also died, as have more than 100 civilians.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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