Thirteen suspected Taliban combatants have been killed in fighting with U.S. and Afghan forces in a southern province, and more than 40 others arrested, a senior Afghan official said Monday.
Some 200 Afghan police, supported by the U.S.-led coalition, fought the militants in mountains of Ghorak district in Kandahar province on Sunday night, said Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid, the latest violence ahead of landmark Sept. 18 elections.
"We have the dead bodies," Khalid said, adding that assault rifles and some ammunition was confiscated from the fighters. He said 44 other suspects were arrested and that the Afghan and coalition forces had suffered no casualties, the AP reports.
U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts on Monday confirmed that more than 40 suspected insurgents had been taken into custody, but gave no further details about the military operation in Kandahar, which he said was continuing. He said some of the suspects may be released after questioning.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in the past six months, and U.S. military commanders believe the violence may worsen as rebels step up attacks with legislative elections just two weeks away, the next key step toward democracy after a quarter century of fighting.
On a trip to Bamiyan in Afghanistan's central highlands on Monday, U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann did not rule out the possibility of violence at the polls, but said it would not prevent Afghans from voting.
"There may be a violent incident. I don't think the violence would stop Afghans from going to the polls. It will not stop them from electing a government. It will not stop them from going forward with democracy," he said.