U.S. and Afghan forces killed eight suspected Taliban guerrillas and captured 16 to thwart an ambush in the southern province of Zabul, a defense ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
The fighting occurred in Zabul’s Dai Chopan district on Monday after the guerrillas tried to ambush a convoy of troops, Zahir Azimy said.
“After the ambush, fierce fighting broke out and we called in coalition air support. Eight Taliban were killed and 16 were captured,” he said.
Guerrilla activity in Afghanistan has picked up after a winter lull but attacks are down on past years, fueling speculation the Taliban may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
Azimy said four of those caught were wounded, while U.S. and Afghan forces suffered no casualties.
A Taliban commander in Zabul, Abdur Rahman Akhunzada, confirmed the battle had taken place but said six militants, two of them Pakistanis, had been killed.
He said several civilians were killed and 15 government soldiers wounded in the fighting. He also said his men had shot down a U.S. military helicopter.
“The wreckage of the chopper is still there,” he told Reuters by satellite telephone, adding that those captured by U.S.-led forces were civilians, not Taliban fighters.
A U.S. military spokeswoman said a helicopter had made a “precautionary landing” in the area of the fighting but had later returned to base.
U.S.-led forces had suffered no casualties in the clash, the spokeswoman said, adding she had no information about Taliban casualties.
There were no independent reports of the fighting in the remote area in Zabul, one of the provinces where the Taliban have been most active since their overthrow by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks. Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remain at large.