NATO says 6 insurgents killed in raid on Taliban base in northern Afghanistan

Saturday, September 4, 2010

NATO says 6 Afghan insurgents killed in clash

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban commander was captured and six insurgents killed in a raid on a rebel hide-out in northern Afghanistan, NATO said Saturday.

The assault in the northern province of Takhar follows a string of recent raids on militant leaders that aim to demoralize the insurgency and sever contacts between rebel groups.

A joint Afghan and NATO force was fired on as it approached a compound Friday where the Taliban commander was hiding, NATO said. The force returned fire with the backing of coalition aircraft.

The compound was then evacuated and the commander and one of his assistants detained, it said.

Takhar had been relatively quiet amid rising violence across Afghanistan, but recent incidents point to growing insurgent activity in the province, about 150 miles (250 kilometers) north of Kabul along the border with Tajikistan.

NATO says an airstrike in the province on Thursday killed about a dozen insurgents, but President Hamid Karzai and other Afghans said the victims were campaign workers seeking votes ahead of this month’s parliamentary elections.

Farther south in Kandahar province, where much of the current fighting is focused, a Taliban commander in the provincial capital and six associates were detained in a raid Thursday, NATO said. Other Taliban leaders in rural Kandahar and the southern provinces of Paktiya and Helmand were also captured, it said.

Separately, Helmand’s provincial government reported at least 12 insurgents were killed in fighting and air raids in the province on Thursday.

NATO has been intensifying its efforts with the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops along with additional special forces soldiers who conduct most of the targeted raids alongside the Afghan army and police.

Some 140,000 foreign troops are now in the country, tasked both with driving the Taliban from areas it has held sway in for years, and ensuring security for the Sept. 18 elections that many hope will help set Afghanistan on a path to greater political stability.

So far, the election campaign has been disrupted by periodic but not paralyzing violence, with at least three candidates and five campaign workers killed in attacks. Along with the Taliban, rival candidates are also believed to be involved in some of the violence and intimidation.

On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured U.S. bases and met with troops in Kandahar, saying he saw and heard evidence that the counterinsurgency strategy is taking hold in the Taliban’s spiritual heartland.

Such progress is crucial ahead of a U.S. assessment of Afghanistan strategy in December that could determine the direction of future efforts. President Barack Obama has pledged to begin pulling out at least some troops starting next July.

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