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Up to 60 Afghan Taliban killed in NATO base attack

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan and NATO-led troops killed 50 to 60 Taliban fighters during an attack by insurgents on a base in a volatile southeastern Afghan province near the border with Pakistan, a provincial government spokesman said on Wednesday.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed there had been an attack on a base in the Barmal district of southeastern Paktika province late on Tuesday.

Mukhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the Paktika governor, put the number of Taliban fighters killed at between 50 and 60.

An ISAF spokesman said a large group of insurgents attacked the ISAF base using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. ISAF troops fought back, causing “significant” casualties among the insurgents.

He said two buildings used by insurgents were destroyed in the fighting, which included ISAF air strikes, but said there had been no reports of civilian or coalition casualties.

Paktika province lies on the border with the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan, where the Taliban and allied insurgents like the Haqqani network have safe havens from which they launch attacks into Afghanistan.

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Paktika and neighboring Paktia ands Zabul have been hit by a number of attacks this year.

ISAF troops and Afghan special forces killed more than 50 insurgents in Paktika during an operation in July to clear a training camp that ISAF said the Haqqanis had been using as a base for foreign fighters.

In September, a bomb killed six civilians in Paktika. The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack there in March when three suicide bombers killed 24 construction workers.

Despite the presence of about 130,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan remains at its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces 10 years ago, according to the United Nations.

On Sunday, at least seven civilians were killed and 15 wounded by a suicide bomber in an attack on a mosque in northern Baghlan province soon after prayers for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

ISAF says there has been a fall in the number of attacks by insurgents recently, but that data excludes attacks that kill only civilians, and attacks on Afghan security forces operating without international troops.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Jan Harvey, Elyas Wahdat and Christine Kearney; Writing by Jan Harvey; Editing by Paul Tait