Battle erupts in west Afghanistan after executions

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces backed by Western warplanes battled insurgents in western Afghanistan on Tuesday after Taliban fighters publicly executed three former government employees.

Violence has increased sharply in Afghanistan over the past year despite the growing number of U.S. and NATO troops, more than seven years after the Islamist Taliban were ousted from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.

Fighting in Farah province, a vast desert area near Iran, began on Monday after the Taliban publicly executed the three ex-government employees to punish them for cooperating with the state, provincial governor Rohul Amin told Reuters.

Later the same day, Afghan security forces backed by foreign air power launched raids in the Bala Boluk district of the province. Four Afghan security forces members and about 25 insurgents had been killed so far, Amin said.

The head of public health and hospitals in Farah province, Abdul Jabar Shayeq, said 11 civilians and three policemen had been admitted to hospital with wounds from the fighting. The civilians included seven children and three women.

The insurgent death toll could not be independently verified.

“The operation is still going on and casualty figures on both sides may change,” Amin said. “Civilians might have been hurt during the operations, but we don’t have any figure yet.”

Jalil Ahmad, a resident in the district, said some 100 Taliban fighters had taken up positions in residential areas to fight the Afghan and foreign troops.

“Civilian lives are in danger from both sides and they don’t care about it,” Ahmad said. “We beg President (Hamid) Karzai to save our lives.”

Last year more than 7,000 people, including 2,000 civilians, died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan, the United Nations and aid agencies say.

The United States plans to more than double its forces to fight the Taliban insurgents this year from 32,000 at the start of the year to 68,000 by the year’s end. Other countries have around 30,000 troops in Afghanistan.