Afghan soldiers kill 48 Taliban fighters in Kabul

Operation aimed to clear Taliban strongholds ahead of vote

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Afghan soldiers have killed 48 Taliban fighters in two operations in southern Afghanistan aimed at clearing Taliban strongholds ahead of presidential elections in August, officials and the army said Wednesday.

Local troops backed by NATO-led international forces stormed a Taliban stronghold in the southern province of Uruzgan on Tuesday, killing 23 insurgents, Afghan army General Sher Mohammad Zazai told AFP.

"We had an operation in Chinarto area last night during which we located a Taliban hideout. We killed 23 enemy fighters," Zazai said.

Fighter jets from the NATO force took part in the battle close to the provincial capital of Tirin Kot and near the Pakistan border, he added.

The operation was part of an anti-insurgent drive recently launched to dislodge Taliban fighters from their strongholds ahead of the August 20 presidential elections, the general said.

The Afghan defense ministry reported separately that troops had killed 25 "terrorists" in a three-day clean-up operation that ended on Tuesday in the southern province of Helmand.

Helmand, the main producer of Afghanistan's illegal opium, sees some of the worst of the insurgency, with a handful of districts said to be under insurgent control.

U.S. national security adviser James Jones visited the province on Wednesday as part of a tour of Afghanistan to assess implementation of a new U.S. strategy against the Taliban that promises more troops, money and development.

We had an operation in Chinarto area last night during which we located a Taliban hideout. We killed 23 enemy fighters

Sher Zazai, Afgan Army General

Jones started his trip in Kabul on Tuesday where he met President Hamid Karzai and the top U.S. commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who took over just over a week ago.

He stressed U.S. commitment to securing August 20 presidential elections, a milestone in international efforts to bring democracy to Afghanistan after the 1996-2001 Taliban regime was toppled in a U.S.-backed invasion.

The Taliban insurgency has grown steadily in recent years, and picked up again in recent weeks, raising fears for the security of the elections.

Afghan security forces, with support from NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops, have launched a series of operations to secure volatile areas, mainly in southern parts of the country worst-hit by rebel attacks.

There are about 90,000 foreign troops -- mostly from the United States -- stationed in Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and help train Afghan forces.