Two American CH-47 helicopters were damaged during 11 hours of fighting on Tuesday at a rebel "safe haven", a US military statement said.

 

One made an emergency landing before it was repaired while the other managed to fly back to a nearby airbase.

 

US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry O'Hara said about 40 rebels had been killed, but General Salim Khan, commander of about 400 Afghan policemen who also took part in the operation, said his men had recovered the bodies of 60 suspected fighters.

 

Some 30 fighters were captured, including eight who were wounded, he said.

 

Khan said that in addition to the five slain Afghan police officers, three were also injured in the gun battle on the border between the southern provinces of Kandahar and Zabul.

 

Taliban camps

 

"There are hundreds of Taliban in camps in the mountains. My officers have been spotting them and then the information is used by the American aircraft to bomb them," Khan said. "Many of the rebels have started to flee the area."

 

"Coalition and Afghan forces will continue to defeat these militants for as long as necessary to ensure the people of Afghanistan remain free of oppression and tyranny"

Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry O'Hara

The military statement said: "Coalition warplanes and attack helicopters were hammering enemy positions throughout the evening."

 

O'Hara said the "operation to go after enemy safe havens is ongoing".

 

"We are not letting up on the enemy and will continue to pursue them until the fighting stops. Coalition and Afghan forces will continue to defeat these militants for as long as necessary to ensure the people of Afghanistan remain free of oppression and tyranny," he said.

 

The names of the US wounded were withheld pending notification of their families.

 

Suspects killed

 

News of the fighting came after General Salim Khan, a deputy police chief in southern Kandahar province, said 11 suspected rebels were killed in fighting in a neighbouring district, Miana Shien, on Tuesday.

 

It was not immediately clear whether these deaths were included in the 40 announced by the US military.

 

The names of the US wounded were withheld pending notification of their families.

 

Three months of bloodshed across the south and east has left hundreds dead and sparked fears that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down.

 

US and Afghan officials warn that things could get worse ahead of landmark parliamentary elections scheduled for September.