November 17th, 2007 09:01 EST
23 militants in Afghanistan killed by U.S.-led troops
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces have killed 23 militants during weapons searches in southern Afghanistan while two Canadian coalition soldiers and their interpreter died in a bomb blast, the foreign forces said on Saturday.
As rebel casualties mount, there are scant signs their insurgency to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces is weakening, but instead there have been more clashes this year compared to 2006 and spread over a wider area.
Coalition forces searched compounds in the Garmser district of Helmand province looking for weapons.
"Several armed militants threatening coalition forces were engaged and killed during the course of this operation," a U.S. military statement said.
Another 11 suspects were detained, it said.
Afghan troops killed more than 10 Taliban fighters in the Zherai district of the southern province of Kandahar on Saturday, the provincial police chief said.
Two Canadian soldiers with the international force and their interpreter were killed in the south when their armored vehicle hit a homemade bomb on Saturday, the Canadian army said. Three Canadians were wounded.
In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber targeting U.S. forces killed one civilian, the international force said.
The Taliban have killed more than 200 people in over 130 suicide attacks this year.
While the number of attacks and casualty figures are up from last year, the proportion of foreign troops and civilians killed in suicide bombings is down, security analysts say.
This is because foreign forces are better protected against the attacks and the Taliban are using fewer suicide car bombs which tend to kill more bystanders. The percentage of Afghan police and soldiers killed has gone up, though.
In the usually more peaceful north, armed gunmen loyal to a former warlord killed nine policemen and wounded another five in an ambush, the provincial police chief said on Saturday.
"The police team was sent to the Shahrak district to disarm an irresponsible armed group posing a threat to the people," Shah Jahan Noori, the police chief of Ghor province.
While efforts to disarm former fighters have had some success, after 30 years of war Afghanistan is still awash with weapons and armed groups have been reforming in some areas as the security situation deteriorates.
In the west, five rockets landed at Herat airport overnight, the Herat border police chief Rahmatullah Safai said.
"Initial reports indicate that no one was killed, but we don't know the extent of damage at the moment," he said.
Herat airport is also used by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban said the international troops were the target of the attacks.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; Additional reporting by Sharifuddin Sharafiyar in Herat and Finbarr O'Reilly in Kandahar; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
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