Taliban dismisses NATO death toll claim as 'a complete lie'

Nato today said as many as 150 insurgents were killed in a battle in eastern Afghanistan after two large groups of fighters crossed the border from Pakistan.

Nato today said as many as 150 insurgents were killed in a battle in eastern Afghanistan after two large groups of fighters crossed the border from Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman called the claim “a complete lie.” The fighters were attacked with ground fire and air strikes, Nato said.

Gen Murad Ali, the Afghan army regional deputy corps commander, said the insurgents had travelled into Paktika province with several trucks of ammunition.

A Nato statement said “initial battle damage estimates” indicated that as many as 150 fighters were killed.

Ali said more than 50 fighters were killed overnight. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, estimated the toll at 80.

It was not clear why there was such a disparity in the estimates. Independent confirmation of the death toll was not immediately possible on the remote battle site.

Dr Muhammad Hanif, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said in a text message to an Associated Press reporter in Pakistan that the figure of 150 dead was "a complete lie".

“The Americans want to boost morale of their troops while making such claims,” the message said.

The fight in the Bermel district of Paktika province is the first major engagement of 2007 and appeared to be the largest battle since a multi-day operation killed more than 500 Taliban fighters in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province in September.

Nato has not revealed how it estimated that 150 fighters were killed. In early December Nato said it had killed 70-80 fighters in Helmand province but days later said that only seven to eight were killed.

Azimi said one Pakistani fighter was wounded and captured. RPGs and machine guns were also recovered, he said.

In the southern province of Helmand, meanwhile, Nato forces called in air strikes on Taliban positions during a clash in the village of Gereshk on Wednesday, said Ghulam Nabi Mulahkhail, a local police chief.

Among those killed was a local Taliban group commander identified as Mullah Faqir Mohammad, the police official said one Afghan soldier was wounded and evacuated to a Nato medical facility, the alliance said in a statement.

The troops recovered weapons and ammunition in the militant compound following the operation, the statement said.

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