U.S. warplanes pounded dozens of insurgents hiding in caves in southern Afghanistan, the military said Monday, after a gunbattle between the militants and U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants riding in pickup trucks killed two policemen in a raid south of the capital, an Afghan official said, the latest signal of spreading violence ahead of crucial national elections in September.
The American planes struck early Sunday near Tirin Kot, a town 250 miles southwest of Kabul where U.S. Marines recently set up a base, military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said.
The militants sought refuge in the caves, and coalition forces called in “air support that dealt with those caves,” Mansager said.
He said no U.S. soldiers were hurt and had no information on any casualties among the militant who numbered between 10 and 30.
More than 400 people have died in violence across Afghanistan this year, most in the south and east where U.S. forces and Taliban militants have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks.
The U.S. military has assembled 20,000 troops, its largest-ever force in Afghanistan, in an attempt to keep militants on the defensive in the run-up to the vote.
But there are signs that the insurgency is expanding.
The policemen died when Taliban attacked the government office in Kharwar, a remote district of Logar province just 50 miles south of Kabul, said Gen. Atiqullah Ludin, a local military commander.
He said about two dozen assailants rode into town in four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and opened fire with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, setting fire to one office.
Ludin said two police officers were killed and another injured before the Taliban withdrew into the mountains. An Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul said only one policeman had died.
The Logar attack comes less than a week after five medical relief workers, including three foreigners, died in northwestern Badghis province in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
Aid groups worry that relatively secure provinces such as Badghis and Logar will join the south and east in being too dangerous for badly needed reconstruction work.
The violence is also a threat to plans to hold elections in September.
Militants ambushed a U.N. convoy of election workers in southeastern Paktia province on Sunday. Guards and the assailants fought a pitched battle, but no one was hurt.
Karzai insisted last week that the vote should go ahead, though the United Nations, which is scrambling to register millions of voters around the country, says security must improve.
In another incident further south, militants opened fire on U.S.-led forces Friday with small arms and machine-guns north of Spin Boldak, a town on the Pakistani border, Mansager said.
There were no reports of injuries, but five militants were detained.