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21 rebels killed in Afghanistan: Report

The six-hour battle in Helmand province showed the British Army was waging an active campaign against insurgents in the region.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2006 19:15 IST

British troops killed as many as 21 Taliban fighters after they came under fire while on a routine search in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, a media report said on Friday.

The six-hour battle in Nowzad village in Helmand province showed the British Army was waging an active campaign against insurgents in the region, not just carrying out reconstruction work, a BBC report said.

Neither British forces nor Afghan government troops backing them were reported hurt. British officials said earlier that only five Taliban had been killed.

British troops took command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led forces in southern Afghanistan last month and are deploying in Helmand.

British commanders quoted by the BBC said that the Taliban earned the grudging respect of the parachute regiment soldiers because they stood their ground and fought.

The Afghan police put civilians at risk when they fired indiscriminately, and they later broke and ran when confronted by the Taliban, according to British sources.

Britain deployed 3,300 troops to Helmand in part to help the newly-formed Afghan National Army fight the increasingly violent militant groups based around the Pakistan border and curb the heroin trade that finances them.

Emmanuel Reinert, the head of the Senlis Council think tank, warned in London on Tuesday that British troops must regain control in Helmand or "the whole of southern Afghanistan will be lost to the Taliban insurgents."

His think tank said that a "state of war" was gripping Helmand and may spread as Taliban fighters learn the bombing skills of insurgents in Iraq and gain public support.

"The nature of instability in Helmand has shifted from random insurgency to a state of prolonged and organized violence that threatens the very foundations of the new Afghanistan," it said.

Portrayed as a success story following the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime, Afghanistan was growing increasingly hostile to foreign troops as promises of improved livelihoods came to nothing, Senlis said.

First Published: Jun 09, 2006 18:45 IST