KABUL: NATO forces in Afghanistan said Thursday they had killed at least 31 Taliban fighters and captured a rebel chieftain after a raid on an insurgent hideout in the southern province of Helmand.
Troops called in air support during running gunbattles in the province`s troubled Baghran district which erupted after rebels attacked soldiers moving in on the compound with machine guns and rockets, it said.
NATO`s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that the Taliban chief of Naw Zad, another restive district of Helmand, was injured and detained following the fighting.
"Afghan and international security forces captured the Taliban district chief of Naw Zad and killed a large number of insurgents during an operation in remote Baghran district in northern Helmand province last night," it said.
German army General Josef Blotz, a spokesman for ISAF, said at least 31 insurgents had been killed in the operation.
"Throughout the four-hour firefight enemy forces attempted to use improvised explosive devices against the security force," he told reporters, referring to home-made bombs regularly used by the Taliban.
"However Afghan and coalition forces employed precision air fire and suppressed the enemy," adding that a huge arms cache and a quantity of opium had been discovered and destroyed.
Troops captured several wounded insurgents following the fighting, ISAF`s statement said, and no civilian or soldier was hurt.
"This joint force operation dealt another significant blow to the Taliban network," said Colonel William Maxwell, ISAF Joint Command Combined Joint Operations Centre director.
Taliban militants are waging an insurgency against tens of thousands of international troops in Afghanistan under UN mandate to help keep President Hamid Karzai government`s in power.
The Taliban, who were in power between 1996 and 2001 before being toppled in a US-led invasion, have intensified their fight in recent years.
In June, 102 foreign soldiers were killed in the Afghan war, making it the deadliest month for NATO in nine years of conflict.
So far this year 322 troops have been killed, compared to 520 for all of 2009.
BdST: 1638 HRS, June 01, 2010