About 100 Taliban on Wednesday fought with security forces in a northern Afghan village, and a military helicopter crashed as it ferried reinforcements to an even larger battle in the northeast.
Mohammed Zareen, a spokesman for the Nuristan government, said nine people were injured when the Afghan MI-17 Defense Ministry helicopter crashed after hitting a tree. It was one of four ferrying a unit of the National Intelligence Service's rapid reaction force. They were being escorted by two Afghan attack helicopters.
The unit was sent to bolster police who late Tuesday managed to stop a large-scale assault by about 400 Taliban against four outposts just south of Nuristan's capital Parun. Security forces in the area remained on high alert.
Afghan police were also engaged in fierce battles with about 100 Taliban fighters on motorcycles who attacked Abduraman village in northern Jawzjan province late Tuesday. In an overnight firefight that raged intensely for two hours, 17 insurgents and one villager were killed, provincial police chief Abdul Aziz Ghyrat said. He added that the fighting ended shortly before dawn.
The villagers fought the attackers themselves until reinforcements arrived in the form of Afghan police, army and NATO air support, Ghyrat said. Among the dead militants was a local Taliban commander who had planned bombings and attacks in the region, he added.
The Taliban have launched a series of large-scale attacks around Afghanistan over the past five days, and they are part of the insurgents' long-awaited spring offensive. As part of the campaign, the Taliban have also said they plan to assassinate government officials and anyone working with the U.S.-led coalition.
The effectiveness of the Taliban's campaign could influence the size of President Barack Obama's planned drawdown of U.S. troops in July, the scale of which military officials have said will depend on conditions on the ground.
"Recently the enemies of peace and stability of Afghanistan have launched a number of terrorist and organized attacks," said Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service. He added that some planned attacks were thwarted.
He said the service recently uncovered and stopped a plot to kill former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf,a parliamentarian and member of the council set up by President Hamid Karzai to make peace with the Taliban.
Over the weekend, the Taliban launched their first major strike in their spring campaign, hitting key government buildings in the southern city of Kandahar, the movement's birthplace. At least two dozen insurgents, two members of the Afghan security forces and one civilian were killed in two days of fighting in the city.
And in the southern province of Zabul, NATO and Afghan forces went after militants in an operation that turned into a deadly gunbattle. Ten militants were killed in the fighting Tuesday night, provincial spokesman Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar said.
In Nuristan, calm returned Wednesday to an area where hundreds of Taliban attacked the day before.
Zareen, the governor's spokesman, said violence ended after police sent 150 reinforcements to the area. He said that the militants had fired down from the mountains with rockets, mortars and heavy machine guns.
"It's not like a face-to-face gunbattle. They occupied some mountaintops and used heavy weapons," Zareen explained. He said four militants had been killed in Tuesday's fire fight, but no police officers. He added that Afghan forces were taking no chances.
Meanwhile, NATO said a bomb killed a coalition service member in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The military alliance did not provide further details about the deceased, in line with a policy of waiting for national authorities to release the information.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups control large swathes of Nuristan, Kunar and other northeastern provinces near the Pakistani border. Insurgents retain safe havens in Pakistan's neighboring lawless tribal regions and cross the border into Afghanistan to attack NATO troops.
Hizb-i-Islami, a militant group made up of loyalists of regional warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also has a large presence in the region. They are not thought to be taking part in the attacks. The area also has smaller ultraconservative Salafi groups.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez, Heidi Vogt and Patrick Quinn contributed from Kabul, along with Mirwais Khan from Kandahar.