American and Afghan military officials say they have severely disrupted
a major drug network in southern Afghanistan, while also striking a
blow against militant fighters.
A U.S. military statement released Saturday says four days of fighting in Helmand province resulted in the seizure of 75 tons of opium poppy seeds, plus tons of other drugs and chemicals used to convert opium into heroin.
Afghan and U.S. officials say 60 militants were killed during the lengthy battle - about half of them in air strikes against a village in Helmand Province known as an insurgent stronghold and a center of narcotics activity.
Fighting centered on a large bazaar (Loy Cherah) in Marjeh village, where most of the drugs were recovered. U.N. officials say civilians were escorted from the area before a series of air strikes late Friday.
Afghanistan is the source of up to 90 percent of the world's opium. Most opium production is in Helmand province and other southern areas where the central government is weak and Taliban-led insurgents are on the increase.
U.S. officials say drug-trade profits have been funding the Taliban insurgency, but American and Afghan troops are incrreasingly targeting Taliban-dominated areas.
Earlier Saturday, the NATO-led military force in Afghanistan said one of its soldiers died Friday after a helicopter made an emergency landing in southern Uruzgan province. A statement said the emergency landing was not caused by insurgent fire.
NATO also said another of its soldiers was killed Friday in a direct-fire attack, a term used to describe an attack where a weapon is fired at a visible target.
The alliance did not provide the service member's nationality, and gave no other details or the location of the attack.