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29 militants killed in southern Afghanistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

A militant ambush of an opium poppy eradication force sparked clashes that left 25 Taliban fighters and a policeman dead, a provincial police chief said Thursday. Four other militants died when a bomb went off.

Insurgents ambushed the drug eradication force Wednesday in Marja district of Helmand province killing one police officer and wounding two, said Gen. Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, the provincial police chief.

Police attacked the militants afterward, killing 25 Taliban fighters, including a senior regional militant commander, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Helmand, a front line between militants and foreign forces, is the world's largest opium-producing region. Officials estimate that up to 40 percent of proceeds from Afghanistan's drug trade -- an amount worth tens of millions of dollars -- is used to fund the insurgency.

Separately, four militants died and another was wounded Thursday when the roadside bomb they were planting on a main road in Helmand exploded prematurely, Andiwal said. Militants regularly target Afghan and foreign troops with roadside bombs, though many civilians are killed by the blasts.

Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 6,500 people -- mostly militants -- were killed in insurgency related violence, according to an Associated Press count.

The top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate committee in Washington on Wednesday that President Hamid Karzai's government controls just 30 percent of the country.

The resurgent Taliban controls 10 percent to 11 percent of the country, while local tribes control the rest, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell said.