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NATO Says 130 Taliban Killed In Afghan Operation

A German soldier on a helicopter patrol in Kunduz
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - NATO and Afghan officials say their forces have killed at least 130 Taliban fighters in a major operation over the past week in an area of Afghanistan's north where militant activity has surged.

A combined force of 700 Afghan troops and 50 NATO soldiers cleared villages of fighters, killing more than 130 insurgents including eight Taliban commanders during a five-day operation, NATO spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician said.

Kunduz Province Governor Mohammad Omar told Reuters the combined force had killed 133 fighters during the operation, which took place in and around Kunduz's Char Dara district.

However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said only five fighters had died, and called the death toll given by NATO and Afghan officials "propaganda."

The NATO-led force deployed air strikes against armed insurgents but believed no civilians were among those killed, Vician said. No NATO or Afghan troops were killed, he added.

Kunduz Province is mainly patrolled by the NATO force's German contingent, which has failed to prevent Taliban fighters from taking control of many rural villages in recent months.

Its Char Dara district was the site of the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II. In early September, a German officer ordered a U.S. air strike that the Afghan government says killed 30 civilians as well as 69 fighters.

Germany acknowledged this week for the first time that civilians were killed in that strike and not all procedures were followed correctly, but says an air strike was nonetheless needed to prevent a suicide attack by fighters in stolen fuel trucks.

That incident also drew attention to the rapid spread of Taliban control in Kunduz, one of the provinces where NATO says insurgents have made gains this year, spreading out of southern and eastern bases into once-quiet northern and western areas.