In the largest battle, at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed in the southern Uruzgan province during a five-hour gun battle after they attacked coalition forces in the province, the US military said on Saturday.

No coalition or civilian injuries were reported, the statement added.

 

In a separate incident, coalition and Afghan forces attacked "a large group of extremists" in the Zharie district of neighbouring Kandahar province, killing 25 insurgents, US military officials said.

 

"Several extremists broke contact by using innocent Afghan civilians as shields to escape into nearby villages," they said.

 

Massive offensive

 

Nato-led forces launched a massive offensive earlier this month, called Operation Mountain Thrust, against Taliban forces in a bid to stop a wave of suicide attacks and ambushes over the past few months.

 

"As we enter the second week of this operation, we have made very good achievements"

Mohammad Zahir Azimi, Afghan defence ministry spokesman

It is the largest military operation in the country since the fall of the former Taliban government in 2001.

 

More than 10,000 Afghan, British, Canadian and American troops are deployed across Afghanistan's Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces - areas where Taliban forces appear to have regrouped.

 

The coalition says about 200 Taliban fighters have been killed since Operation Mountain Thrust got under way this month, while the Afghan defence ministry put the number at about 150, with a further 30 wounded and 60 arrested.

 

"Mountain Thrust is one of the biggest operations in the south of the country. As we enter the second week of this operation, we have made very good achievements," said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a ministry spokesman.