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Major Battle On Afghan Border

Afghan and U.S. troops backed by warplanes killed as many as 50 militants in a day-long battle near the Pakistani border, the U.S. military said Tuesday, one of the bloodiest clashes since American forces entered Afghanistan.

One Afghan soldier was also killed and three others wounded in Monday's fighting in Khost province, a former al Qaeda stronghold south of the capital, Kabul, a military statement said.

"Allied forces staved off rockets, mortars, rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire throughout the day and into the night," the statement said. "The exact number of enemy casualties is unknown, but pilots flying overhead estimated that approximately 40-50 insurgents were killed."

The battle began at about 2 a.m. when militants assailed a border post in the south of the province.

Afghan officials said Monday that they had found the bodies of two attackers, while the U.S. military said only that it had inflicted "heavy" losses on the rebels.

In Tuesday's statement, the U.S. military said the attackers retreated "in panic" when warplanes including a B-1 bomber, an A-10 ground attack aircraft and helicopters arrived on the scene.

The Afghan soldier died in a fresh skirmish later that morning, the U.S. military said, though Afghan Gen. Khial Baz said that two of his men had died.

The U.S. military said the fighting continued into Monday night, but gave no further details.

Afghan and American military bases along the mountainous border regularly come under attack from rebels armed with rockets, mortars and guns.

Some of the attacks originate in tribal areas on the Pakistani side, where thousands of Pakistani troops have fought fierce battles recently in an attempt to dislodge hundreds of suspected foreign fighters.

Militants have also killed workers preparing landmark presidential elections set for Oct. 9, including a guard shot dead in southern Afghanistan on Sunday.

The soldier was riding back from a voter registration site to Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, on Sunday evening when his jeep came under fire, said Mohammed Wali, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Wali blamed the Taliban, but didn't elaborate.

At least 10 election workers have died in a string of attacks since May, but the violence has failed to halt a registration drive that the United Nations says has reached more than 90 percent of the estimated electorate so far.

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