25 killed in fighting with suspected Taliban in southeast Afghanistan

-"There were just 20 Afghan soldiers in the district so they couldn't fight hundreds of Pakistani militias and Taliban -- that is why they left the district and escaped to the provincial capital."

Three Afghan soldiers were killed overnight in fighting with suspected Taliban militants, following a day of bloodshed which left at least 22 other people dead in southeast Afghanistan.

The soldiers were killed Sunday night in the latest violence when dozens of militants attacked and burned down the local district office in Turwa, Paktika province, 310 kilometres (190 miles) south of Kabul, the provincial governor Mohammad Ali Jalali said Monday.

"Last night a group of tens of local Taliban attacked Turwa district, killed three government soldiers and burned the district office," Jalali told AFP by telephone from the provincial capital Sharan.

Jalali said it was not known if there were any casualties among the attackers.

"Nobody else was injured or kidnapped," he said, adding that the incident was being investigated.

Paktika intelligence director Haji Khan Mir said local Taliban supported by Pakistani militiamen had attacked and seized control of the district in retaliation after a local tribe captured three Pakistani militiamen during a clash three days ago.

"That is why Pakistani militias attacked Turwa in support of the Taliban and took control of the district, and are still in control of it," he told AFP.

"There were just 20 Afghan soldiers in the district so they couldn't fight hundreds of Pakistani militias and Taliban -- that is why they left the district and escaped to the provincial capital," he said.

Paktika security commander Dawlat Khan confirmed three soldiers had been killed in the attack which followed a major battle earlier Sunday in another Paktika town to the north which left at least 22 people dead.

Fifteen militants and seven government soldiers were killed early Sunday in a major battle with hundreds of heavily-armed militants in Barmal town, 220 kilometres (140 miles) south of Kabul, Khan said earlier.

Seven government soldiers, including the district security commander and the district chief's son were killed and one was injured during the fighting which lasted three hours.

"The Taliban escaped but soldiers in the district say around 15 Taliban also died in this fighting," he said.

It was not possible to independently verify details of the fighting in the remote border region.

Barmal is 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the rugged mountain frontier with Pakistan's North Waziristan while Turwa borders Baluchistan province.

Officials blamed the attacks on Taliban militants who have stepped up attacks across southern and southeastern Afghanistan in recent months.

Attacks over the past week in which a further 60 people died have highlighted the continuing lack of security outside Kabul, particularly in the south and southeast.

President Hamid Karzai is currently appointing a string of new provincial governors and security commanders in a bid to tackle the upsurge in violence.

The United Nations and Afghan government have also repeatedly called for the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force, which is now under NATO command, to be expanded to the provinces.

Some 20 months after the fall of the Taliban, members of the militia continue to launch regular attacks on the US-led coalition and government and foreign targets, mainly the militia's former heartland in the south and southeast.

[Source: Agence France-Presse, August 18, 2003]

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This document has been published on 24aug03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.