An airstrike killed a senior Taliban commander and several of his fighters in the southern province of Kandahar, NATO said on Monday.

The strike on Sunday targeted Haji Amir, one of the top two rebel commanders in Kandahar’s Panjwayee district, the NATO—led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

The air raid was called in after Amir and his fighters had been tracked for several days and when they stopped at a small, unoccupied hut in a farming area near the village of Zangabad, it said.

Amir was among hundreds of Taliban prisoners who escaped from a jail in the provincial capital, also called Kandahar, in June 2008.

He had since been leading Taliban attacks in the Dand, Zherai and Panjwayee districts, the ISAF said.

“Most recently, Amir had been in Pakistan planning the Taliban’s upcoming attacks, and he returned to Afghanistan in April to lead attacks against coalition and Afghan forces,” it said.

The strike came amid preparations by around 12,000 Afghan and NATO forces for a major offensive in Kandahar province. A NATO official recently said that the allied forces planned to take out “as many Taliban leaders as we can” before the start of the operation in Kandahar.

Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban movement and was its main headquarters from 1995 to late 2001 when it was ousted from power in a US—led invasion. Afghan and NATO officials said they hope to turn around the tide of war against the militants in Kandahar and force them to negotiate peace with the government.

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