KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – U.S. and Afghan forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 14 suspected Taliban fighters in central Afghanistan in the heaviest clashes since landmark parliamentary elections went off without major disruption, officials said Friday.

One Afghan soldier died and a U.S. soldier was wounded in the fighting in central Uruzgan on Thursday and Friday, the first time U.S.-led forces used air power since President Hamid Karzai questioned the need for airstrikes.

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen killed a popular local singer and six companions in northern Afghanistan. The motive for the attack in Jawzjan province was unclear, and there was no immediate indication the killings were linked to the Taliban insurgency.

The spate of violence followed warnings by a top U.S. general that the hard-line Taliban’s insurgency was likely to continue well into next year after a winter respite.

More than 1,200 people, many of them militants, died in violence in the six months leading up to Sunday’s historic legislative vote, which the Taliban vowed to disrupt but had little effect on polling day.

Fighting erupted Thursday in central Uruzgan province after Taliban fighters attacked a patrol of Afghan troops with mortars, heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The U.S. troops called in air support, and bombing by helicopter gunships killed 10 “enemy combatants” in Deh Rawood district, the statement said.

The wounded U.S. soldier was listed in stable condition and was moved to a nearby U.S. base.

On Friday, fighting in Uruzgan’s Char Chino district between Taliban fighters and U.S. and Afghan troops left another four rebels dead, provincial Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan said.

Afghan troops found the bodies with four AK-47 rifles, nine grenades and six rockets, Khan said, adding that U.S. and Afghan troops were backed by war planes during the three-hour fighting.

“It’s a mountainous area. Our forces are searching for other Taliban. I think we will find more bodies,” he said.

No casualties were reported among the Afghan and U.S. troops fighting in Char Chino.

The Taliban militants have kept up a steady insurgency mainly in areas along the Pakistani border. Afghan officials claim Pakistan is not doing enough to seal the border and keep insurgents from crossing back and forth to carry out attacks – a claim Pakistan vehemently denies.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the U.S.-led coalition’s operational commander, said Thursday that fighting with the Taliban would wind down during Afghanistan’s harsh winter, then pick back up in the spring. Heavy winter snows make the high mountain passes the rebels use impassable.

In the violence in Jawzjan province, singer Qorban Nazar and six of his friends were shot and killed by AK-47 fire, a day after he performed at a wedding in the area. The victims’ bodies were found by a shepherd, Gov. Guma Khan Hamdard said.

Hamdard said the motive for the killings was not known but it did not appear to be theft because the victims’ cell phones and other belongings were recovered.

The Taliban have been blamed for attacking singers and musicians because the radical militia considers music to be against their interpretation of Islam.


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