March 22, 2008 / 9:57 AM / in 9 years

Afghan police, U.S. troops kill three Taliban

<p>A U.S. soldier walks past damaged vehicles at the site of a bomb attack in Kabul March 13, 2008. Afghan police backed by U.S. troops killed three Taliban fighters and captured three more in a 40-minute gunbattle in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, a Reuters witness said.. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>

SHAJOY, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police backed by U.S. troops killed three Taliban fighters and captured three more in a 40-minute gun battle in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, a Reuters witness said.

The fire fight erupted after some 40 Afghan police officers, backed by a small team of U.S. mentors entered a village in the Shajoy district of Zabul province.

Taliban fighters fired on the troops before retreating to a nearby hill on motorcycles. The police and U.S. mentors chased the militants and surrounded them.

At the end of the battle, three Taliban were killed and three were captured, one of them wounded.

The United States is pressing its NATO allies to come up with more troops for Afghanistan at an alliance summit in Bucharest in early April. But all sides agree that building up the Afghan army and police is the key to long-term key stability.

The Afghan army is relatively well trained and equipped, but NATO has only filled 33 of 71 projected teams to bring the army from its current 50,000 troops to a target strength of 80,000.

The Afghan police has lagged far behind however. Officers are notoriously corrupt and often flee isolated outposts in the face of better armed Taliban militants.

The United States budgeted $2.5 billion for training and equipping the Afghan police through last year, and while there is also a big shortage of foreign trainers and mentors, the force is slowly improving, officials say.

The latest clash took place in the same province where a Romanian soldier was killed by an explosion on Thursday.

Afghan police also killed three Taliban commanders and their two bodyguards in the southern province of Uruzgan on Thursday, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

The Afghan army killed one Taliban militant in the southern province of Kandahar, the Defense Ministry said.

In northern Afghanistan, the governor of Khanaqa district in Jowzjan province was killed in a knife attack on Saturday, a provincial spokesman said, blaming Taliban insurgents.

Afghan officials have often been the target of Taliban attacks since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Islamist movement in late 2001. Insurgents killed the commander of the highway police in Kunduz province in the north on Friday, provincial police said.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide attacks and targeted dozens of government officials last year in their campaign to overthrow the pro-Western government and eject the 50,000 foreign troops from the country.

Additional reporting by Tahir Qadiry; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Giles Elgood

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