KABUL, June 26 (Reuters) - A senior Taliban commander on Sunday dismissed as
false Afghan government reports that 178 guerrillas were killed in a U.S.-backed
offensive in southwestern Afghanistan last week.
Mullah Dadullah, one of two top Taliban commanders the government said had
been surrounded in the fighting, telephoned Reuters to say that only seven or
eight guerrillas had been killed, including one commander, Mullah Mohammad Easa.
Speaking by satellite phone from an undisclosed location, Dadullah said the
guerrillas had killed about 20 Afghan police and army troops and 14-18 from
the U.S.-backed foreign force hunting militants in Afghanistan.
"The government was claiming that it killed 178 Taliban," he said.
"That is not true."
"The government was claiming that it had surrounded Mullah Dadullah, Mullah
Brother, Mullah Adbul Hanan, Mullah Abdul Basir and Mullah Abdul Hakim and that
they would soon arrest or kill them," he said. "This was completely
The Defence Ministry said on Thursday that Dadullah and Brother, members of
the Taliban leadership council led by elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad
Omar, and the three other commanders were surrounded in an area where the provinces
of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul meet.
It later said they appeared to have escaped.
The government has said that most of the guerrillas were killed by U.S. air
strikes, in what by its figures would have been one of the bloodiest setbacks
for the Taliban since their 2001 overthrow by U.S.-led forces.
It said three of its troops were killed in the operation and three hurt, while
the U.S. military said six of its soldiers were slightly wounded.
Dadullah also said the guerrillas had shot down two U.S. helicopters in the
The U.S. military said two of its Chinook helicopters were damaged by small-arms
and rocket-propelled grenade fire during fighting on Tuesday and one had to
make an emergency landing, but both returned to base without casualties.
The U.S. military on Wednesday gave an estimate of 40-50 guerrillas dead in
the fighting but then referred reporters to the Afghan authorities for updates
U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government after it refused to hand over
Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, but
three-and-a-half years on, they have been unable to subdue the insurgency or
catch bin Laden.
U.S. and Afghan forces have reported killing more than 200 insurgents in the
past week alone and nearly 400 since March as they move to prevent guerrilla
efforts to derail Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.