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Heavy fighting and airstrikes have left as many as 76 insurgents dead and five U.S. soldiers wounded in southeastern Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday.

One Afghan National Police Officer was killed during the fighting, which started Tuesday and lasted at least 11 hours, U.S. military officials said. A spokesman at Bagram Air Base said sporadic fighting continued in the area near Deh Chopan on Wednesday. None of the Americans were believed seriously wounded.

Gen. Ayub Salangi, police chief for southern Kandahar province, said Afghan forces had recovered the bodies of 76 suspected insurgents from the battlefield on the border between Kandahar and Zabul provinces.

He said the fighting spread to other areas Wednesday, and there were unconfirmed reports of more dead elsewhere.

The clash began after U.S. and Afghan troops were ambushed by militants using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, officials said. The injuries to the U.S. soldiers were “not serious,” but all five were transported to Kandahar Airfield for medical treatment, officials said.

“This mission is a ongoing effort to take away enemy sanctuaries,” Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, Combined Joint Task Force-76 spokesperson, said in an e-mail from Afghanistan. “We are not letting up on the enemy and will continue to pursue them until the fighting stops.”

Airborne troops stationed in Italy and helicopter units deployed from Germany have been involved in the fight, officials said. O’Hara said the fighting was part of Operation Catania, described as a “search-and-attack” mission.

The battle involved a host of U.S. warplanes and attack helicopters, including AC-130 gunships, A-10 attack aircraft, Marine Harrier attack aircraft and AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Two CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters were damaged during the fight, O’Hara said. One was able to fly back to base; the other was forced into an emergency landing. Crewmen repaired it on the ground before it, too, was able to fly back to base.

Gen. Salim Khan, commander of about 400 Afghan policemen involved in the fighting, described the battlefield:

“Their camps were decimated. Bodies lay everywhere. Heavy machine guns and AK-47s were scattered alongside blankets, kettles and food,” he said. “Some of the Taliban were also killed in caves where they were hiding, and U.S. helicopters came and pounded them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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