KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan and coalition troops killed about 45 insurgents in attacks on Taliban camps in southern Afghanistan as U.S.-led forces pressed on with their largest offensive since 2001, military officials said Saturday.

A total of about 85 suspected militants have been killed in the past week as some 10,000 U.S.-led troops spread out over four southern provinces in the campaign dubbed Operation Mountain Thrust aimed at quelling a Taliban resurgence.

An estimated 40 fighters were killed Friday when coalition forces surprised militants as they gathered at a camp in Khod Valley, part of Shahidi Hassas district of Uruzgan province, the military said.

“Coalition forces have delivered a quick and severe blow to the enemy today,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick.

Among those killed were financiers, members of a bomb-making cell, and leaders in the area responsible for attacks against Afghan civilians and the army, the military said.

Afghan and coalition forces also raided a Taliban compound near Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan, killing five insurgents, the military said. Troops also seized about eight pounds of opium.

One U.S. soldier was wounded in the raid. He was later listed in stable condition.

Two coalition soldiers were killed Friday in eastern Kunar province by a roadside bomb as they conducted a security sweep of the area, the military said. The soldiers’ nationalities were not released.

Earlier this week, coalition forces said they killed an estimated 40 militants in a remote, mountainous area of southeastern Paktika province in operations supporting Mountain Thrust. One coalition member was wounded.

Afghan soldiers, along with American, Canadian and British troops, are spreading out over the provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar and Zabul to hunt down Taliban fighters blamed for a recent surge in ambushes and bombings.

The offensive, which began with limited raids in mid-May, rolled out in earnest this week to help prepare for the hand-over of military control to NATO forces later this summer.

More than 500 people have been killed in the past month as insurgents, primarily Taliban, stepped up attacks against coalition and Afghan troops, particularly the south, in the bloodiest campaign since 2001 when the country’s Taliban rulers were ousted by U.S.-led forces.

One suicide attacker on a motorcycle detonated his explosives Saturday near a group of Afghan soldiers in southwestern Nimroz province, killing himself and wounding two soldiers and three bystanders, provincial officials said.

Seven militants and one police officer also were killed during a gunbattle that lasted until dawn in southern Kandahar, the Interior Ministry said Saturday.

Three other insurgents were killed Friday in southern Helmand province when a bomb they were trying to plant near the road exploded, provincial officials said.

Four police officers were killed in southern Kandahar province on Friday when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle, provincial officials said.

AP-ES-06-17-06 1647EDT


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