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13 suspected Taliban killed in run-up to vote

KABUL, Afghanistan -- US and Afghan forces killed 13 suspected Taliban fighters, and captured dozens more, in a remote area where a political candidate was kidnapped and executed last week, a provincial governor said yesterday.

US and Afghan troops dropped by parachute from American aircraft in the operation, which began Sunday, Governor Assadullah Khalid said by telephone from Kandahar, the capital of the province of the same name. None of the allied forces were injured.

The airborne assault targeted insurgents suspected of killing Khan Mohammed, a candidate for Kandahar's provincial council in the country's Sept. 18 elections who had been abducted Friday, the governor added. A district commissioner and three police officers were killed along with Mohammed.

At least four other candidates have been killed in the weeks before the elections for the lower house of Afghanistan's Parliament and provincial councils. It is the first vote for Parliament since US-led forces toppled the Taliban's hard-line Islamic regime in late 2001. Backed by US attack helicopters, the American and Afghan troops, and local police, landed Sunday in the remote Lal valley, about 50 miles northwest of Kandahar, the governor said.

More than 40 suspected insurgents were detained. They are being interrogated, US Colonel Jim Yonts, a coalition spokesman, said in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Khalid said some might be released soon, while the rest will be put on trial as Taliban militants.

''I think this was a group that was hiding and getting ready to conduct operations to bring chaos to the process of the elections in Afghanistan, so this [assault] will decrease the danger of the Taliban insurgency," the governor added.

Yonts denied there was any link between the offensive and Friday's kidnappings and executions.

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