Afghan and NATO-led forces killed 18 insurgents as dozens of Taliban fighters prepared to attack the capital of the southern province of Helmand for the second time since Saturday, police said Wednesday.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year to its highest level since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many in the West fear they are now losing the military campaign and the support of Afghans.
Attacks on major towns by massed Taliban are rare, but an attempted overnight assault on a provincial capital days after more than 60 militants tried to do the same is an indication that the fundamentalist Islamic movement has no shortage of recruits.
“Dozens of Taliban fighters attacked Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Eighteen insurgents were killed during a four-hour gun battle,” said Helmand Police Chief Asadullah Sherzad.
“We believe this was the same group of insurgents and militants,” said a spokesman for the British army in Helmand. “Their aims were similar to that of Saturday night.”
Afghan security forces took the primary role in both operations and the latest attack was also thwarted outside the city, the British military spokesman said. “They were much fewer in numbers and not as well coordinated as on Saturday,” he said.
Elsewhere in Helmand, the provincial governor’s spokesman said about 70 Taliban fighters were killed in an overnight airstrike by foreign forces, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said only a small group of Taliban commanders was targeted and killed in the strike.
The casualty figures could not be verified.