Death toll rises in southern Afghanistan battle

Death toll rises in southern Afghanistan battle

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

US soldiers keep watch at the entrance of a military base near Alkozai village following the shooting of Afghan civilians allegedly committed by a rogue US soldier in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province on March 11, 2012. An AFP reporter counted 16 bodies -- including women and children -- in three Afghan houses after a rogue US soldier walked out of his base and began shooting civilians early Sunday. NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it had arrested a soldier "in connection to an incident that resulted in Afghan casualties in Kandahar province", without giving a figure for the dead or wounded. AFP PHOTO/ JANGIR (Photo credit should read JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images)

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by ASSOCIATED PRESS

khou.com

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 3:02 PM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - The death toll from a week of fighting between Afghan forces and hundreds of Taliban militants in a southern province rose above 100, officials said Thursday, while the U.N. called on all parties to protect civilians who are increasingly caught in the crossfire.
   
The battle is shaping up as a major test of the government's ability to maintain security in volatile areas after foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014, increasing the urgency for the government to sign a security pact with the United States that would allow nearly 10,000 American forces to stay in the country for two more years.
   
Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the deal, saying he would leave it to his successor after results are announced in the recent presidential election. Both candidates vying to replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term, have promised to sign the pact. But the process has been stalled by fraud allegation in the June 14 runoff vote pitting former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah against former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
   
The government has deployed nearly 2,000 reinforcements since the Taliban offensive against checkpoints and government buildings in Helmand province began on Sunday.
   
The provincial governor, Mohammad Naeem Baloch, accused the Pakistani army of orchestrating the assault that began in Helmand's Sangin province and spread. Afghan authorities frequently blame neighboring Pakistan of fomenting violence and backing Taliban attacks in the wartorn country.
   
Baloch said at least 135 people have been killed, including 30 policemen, 35 civilians and 70 Taliban fighters, since the start of the fighting. He also said 25 Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded, although he did not provide a breakdown.
   
"We are launching an operation to clear the area and very soon this area will be cleaned again," he told reporters.
   
An American soldier also was killed in an attack by enemy forces Wednesday in southern Afghanistan. The U.S.-led international coalition said provided no other details in its statement. But a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in exchange for releasing the information ahead of an official announcement, confirmed the soldier's nationality.
   
The death brought to 11 the number of NATO service members killed so far this month, with eight of the fatalities being American. So far this year, 40 NATO troops have died in Afghanistan, including 29 Americans, according to
   
The Taliban have launched their annual spring offensive, promising to step up attacks against Afghan security forces in a bid to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of the year.
   
The clashes in Helmand have special significance because the province was touted as a showcase of a major U.S. military offensive to drive out the militants in 2009. The fighting also comes less than two months after U.S. Marines left their posts in Sangin district on May 5.
   
In political developments, Ahmadzai reiterated during a press conference Thursday in Kabul that he would sign the bilateral security agreement "so we can secure help for our security forces."
   
Abdullah has accused electoral officials of engineering fraud and suspended his participation with the Independent Election Commission. Ahmadzai has called on him to rejoin the process and allow initial results to be released on July 2 in compliance with the IEC's official timetable. Final results are due on July 22 and the inauguration of the new leader was scheduled for Aug. 2.
   
Abdullah's supporters rallied in Kabul on Thursday, waving flags and chanting slogans against fraud.

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