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Taliban rebels, UK soldier killed

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The four most volatile provinces lie along the Pakistan border, a Taliban hot spot since its 2001 ouster.

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(CNN) -- Fighting over the last two days in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province has left a British soldier and 35 militants dead.

The soldier was killed Wednesday in Sangin when a patrol was attacked by Taliban militants. This is the 13th British troop to die in the Afghan conflict and the sixth since early June.

The Combined Forces Command said the "35 extremists" were killed on Tuesday night when coalition forces attacked a Taliban compound in Helmand province.

The incident took place 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Musa Qaleh, Kajaki District of the province "while they met at a Taliban compound in the village of Ghach Zar."

Several of the militants were described as "area Taliban leaders who planned and conducted multiple attacks against local Afghans, government officials and coalition forces."

The action was part of Operation Mountain Thrust, a heavy push by U.S.-led coalition forces to rout out Taliban insurgents and extend Kabul's rule into eastern and southern Afghanistan.

But the coalition has warned that major battles will come as Taliban fighters resist the push to sweep those regions clear ahead of a security handover to NATO-led International Security Assistance Force later this summer, military officials said.

Operation Mountain Thrust began in earnest earlier this month with more than 10,000 Afghan, British, Canadian and American troops deploying throughout four southern provinces to crush a resurgent Taliban force in the largest military operation since the former regime's 2001 ouster.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday defended the deployment of about 4,500 British troops despite mounting criticism from opposition politicians that the government downplayed the dangers of the operation.

He told parliament that commanders had not demanded reinforcements, but added: "If they need more, we will make sure that they get more.

"They are fighting a battle that I think is important not just for the security of Afghanistan," he said. "It is important for the security of the wider world.

"It is absolutely right we give them every support. We will do that."

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