An Afghan army officer said on Wednesday the government forces attacked the Taliban near the southern border late on Tuesday after getting intelligence reports that the insurgents were preparing attacks.

General Abdul Raziq, the army commander, said: "We started an operation against them last night by surrounding them. The fighting went on for several hours. When we checked the place this morning we found 16 bodies."

Abdul Raziq said only one Afghan soldier was wounded in the battle, 8km east of Spin Boldak.
   
Among the dead were two men who Abdul Raziq identified as Taliban commanders, Mullah Atta Jan and Shish Noorzai, who he said had been organising ambushes and suicide bomb attacks.

Surge in violence

There has been a surge in bombings and other attacks by Taliban fighters and their allies in Afghanistan in recent months.

They have said they will launch a spring offensive against foreign forces and the country's Western-backed government.
   
The Taliban were toppled by US-led forces in 2001 for refusing to give up Osama bin Laden, and have been fighting since then to expel foreign forces.

The recent surge in violence has come as Afghanistan's Nato allies, including Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, are sending thousands more troops to the Afghan south, where the insurgency is most intense.