AFGHANISTAN Attack targets insurgents hiding on mountainside
A U.S. spokesman said forces will pursue the rebels until fighting stops.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- American aircraft bombarded a rebel hideout with missiles and bombs, killing up to 76 insurgents in one of the deadliest battles since the Taliban's ouster more than three years ago, officials said Wednesday.
A dozen Afghan policemen and soldiers also died in fighting Tuesday that left bodies scattered across a southern mountainside and was sure to add to growing anxiety that an Iraq-style conflict is developing here. Five U.S. soldiers were wounded.
"Their camps were decimated. Bodies lay everywhere. Heavy machine guns and AK-47s were scattered alongside blankets, kettles and food," said Gen. Salim Khan, commander of 400 Afghan policemen who took part in the fighting. "Some of the Taliban were also killed in caves where they were hiding, and U.S. helicopters came and pounded them."
A U.S. spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, said 49 rebels were killed in the 11-hour battle. But Gen. Ayub Salangi, police chief for Kandahar province, said Afghan forces recovered the bodies of 76 suspected insurgents from the battlefield on the border between Kandahar and Zabul provinces.
Khan said 30 militants were captured, including two district rebel commanders. Eight of the 30 were wounded, he said.
Salangi said the fighting spread to other areas Wednesday, and there were unconfirmed reports of more dead elsewhere. Khan said hundreds of insurgents had been in the mountains and many were trying to flee.
O'Hara said AC-130 gunships, AH-64 Apache helicopters, A-10 attack planes and Harrier jump jets were still attacking rebels and having a "devastating effect on their forces."
"We are not letting up on the enemy and will continue to pursue them until the fighting stops," he said.
The death toll from fighting this week appeared among the heaviest since U.S. planes pounded Taliban forces before the hard-line regime collapsed in late 2001. The last battle of this magnitude was in August, when 70 suspected rebels were killed near the Pakistani border.
About 360 suspected insurgents have been reported killed since rebel attacks began increasing in March, after snows melted on mountain tracks used by the rebels. In the same time, 29 U.S. troops, 38 Afghan police and soldiers, and 125 civilians have been killed.