Up to 70 insurgents were killed in Afghanistan early Sunday when helicopter gunships and ground fighting repulsed an attack by about 100 rebels near the Pakistan border, officials said.
It was the latest in a series of major battles as violence linked to a Taliban-led insurgency has picked up in recent weeks with several deadly extremist attacks and military operations under way against the rebels.
About 100 insurgents had tried to capture the Spera district centre, 15 kilometers from the border with Pakistan, opening fire on police at about 2 a.m. with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the NATO force said.
Police and soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force surrounded the attackers and called air strikes consisting of heavy machinegun fire from helicopters, an ISAF statement said.
"Some insurgents attempted to take cover in a nearby building that helicopters then struck with missiles.
"ANP (Afghan National Police) and ISAF continued to engage the insurgents in a firefight from the ground and air until the early morning hours," it said.
The number of insurgents killed was in the "double-digit figures," ISAF said.
The provincial governor of Khost, which includes Spera, put the attackers' death toll at between 50 and 70.
"They had killed one policeman in the initial attack and had captured another officer who was later beheaded," governor Arsala Jamal said.
"As they retreated, international military air forces came in and bombed them. Fifty to 70 Taliban have been killed," Jamal said.
The rebels were able to get "very close" to the district headquarters in Spera before the air forces arrived, the governor said.
The air strikes were later halted to avoid civilian casualties after the militants moved into villages, he said.
"We could have killed more Taliban if they had not entered the villages. Those of them killed were targeted while massing in an area outside the villages," he said.
The Taliban, an Islamic militant group leading an insurgency against the Afghan government which is backed by about 70,000 international troops, were in government between 1996 and 2001.
They were ousted in a US-led attack in late 2001 launched after they refused to hand over their al-Qaida ally Osama Bin Laden, accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks.
In their bid to take back power, they have captured various remote and small district headquarters but have most often been expelled fairly easily by the international military forces on which the Afghan government relies.
Dozens of Taliban stormed into the Ajristan district about 200 kilometers southwest of Kabul on Monday.
ISAF and Afghan security forces launched an operation on Wednesday to take it back, saying that about 55 militants were killed. The district was again under Afghan control, the ISAF media office said Sunday.
In another attack in Khost on Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a tent of security guards, killing one of them and injuring six more, local officials said.
The attacker, who had strapped explosives to his body, detonated after entering the tent used by guards in charge of security for a road construction company in Yaqobai district, district chief Gul Qasim Jihadyar said.
The US-led coalition, which operates alongside ISAF and the Afghan forces, said separately Sunday it had killed several militants in Paktia province, which adjoins Khost.
The operation was targeted at the extremist Haqqani network of rebels which is allied with the Taliban and has carried out several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.© Wire reports