Villagers return to grim signs of battle to hold back Taliban

Corpses lay stinking in the shade of mulberry trees and in the ruins of a collapsed storehouse. Villagers rushed home to see if their livestock had died in the heat. Afghan soldiers placed red signs warning of bombs planted along the road.

With the battle in Arghandab valley apparently over, grim signs remained Friday of the fight government and NATO troops waged against Taliban militants who had crept within range of Afghanistan's second-largest city.

Violence persisted elsewhere Friday, with suicide attacks and a roadside bomb killing five civilians and two members of the U.S.-led coalition.

The advance of up to 400 militants on Arghandab this week raised particular alarm as a potential springboard for attacks on Kandahar, the Taliban's capital until U.S. bombs drove it from power in 2001.

Hundreds of government and NATO troops launched a counterstrike Wednesday, and two days later the provincial governor escorted reporters through army checkpoints on the 10-mile route from Kandahar to witness the aftermath.

Afghan and French soldiers pointed to a 3-foot-deep crater in a field and to broken and scorched trees as signs of an airstrike.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said 56 militants were killed in all. Two Afghan troops also died. However, Gov. Asadullah Khalid said Friday that the death toll was more than 100.

He said villagers reported hearing the Pashto dialect of tribes from across the border in Pakistan, who are suspected of harboring Afghan insurgents and al-Qaida leaders and sending their own volunteers.

“We want to tell the Taliban, especially the Pakistani Taliban, that if they come again they will get the same treatment,” Khalid said.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco said the lone reported civilian casualty and the deployment of 1,100 Afghan troops within 24 hours were “very important” positives from the operation.