A NATO airstrike killed a Taliban commander responsible for a suicide attack on a U.S. aid programme in northern Afghanistan, police said, while a raid killed another insurgent who smuggled in foreign fighters through Iran, officials said on Friday.
International troops working with Afghan forces say they have killed or captured dozens of senior insurgent figures since April as they aggressively step up operations against the Taliban leadership. However, those successes haven’t slowed the pace of militant attacks, which continue daily, killing dozens of people each month.
In the northern province of Kunduz, a precision airstrike killed a local Taliban commander who uses the alias Qari Latif, the provincial police chief said.
Latif died along with 12 other insurgents while they met in a field under a tree on Thursday outside the provincial capital, police chief Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi said.
NATO confirmed an airstrike targeted a senior insurgent commander who was at a meeting to choose a new Taliban “shadow governor” in a Kunduz district, but the alliance said in a statement it was still investigating the outcome.
The international force said the insurgent chief had boasted of being behind a suicide car bomb on a USAID station in Kunduz city earlier this month that killed two civilians and wounded seven others.
“The Kunduz attack was a shameful act against an organization that was here only to provide assistance to the Afghan people,” said Lt. Col. Ian Tudlong, joint command chief of operations for the NATO—led force.
In western Farah province next to Iran, international and Afghan forces also raided a militant training camp on Thursday, killing another Taliban commander and several more insurgents, NATO said.
The slain insurgent leader, identified as Mullah Akhtar, was responsible for bringing foreign fighters into Afghanistan from Iran, a statement said. NATO officials would not say what nationality the foreign militants were.
The Afghan fight has drawn in radical Muslim jihadists from several countries, including Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt and the separatist Russian region of Chechnya. Those fighters are usually identified as entering through the eastern border with Pakistan, so the NATO information on militants entering through Iran in the west was unusual.
The Farah raid was a result of tips from the community on the camp’s existence and location, NATO said. Support from the Afghan people is a key to the counterinsurgency strategy the international force is rolling out in Afghanistan, trying to turn around the nearly nine—year—old war.
Coalition forces, bolstered by 30,000 new American troops in recent months, have been increasingly going on the offensive with targeted strikes on the insurgents’ leadership, while at the same time training new Afghan security forces they hope will someday be able to keep the country stable and prevent the Taliban from seizing power again.
Since May 1, at least 12 Taliban commanders have been killed or captured in the southern province of Helmand, said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the international force. Earlier this year, coalition forces made a major push to retake the Taliban—controlled Helmand district of Marjah, though holding and stabilizing the area has proved challenging.
Several more key insurgents have been taken out in neighbouring Kandahar province, an insurgent stronghold where American troops are also increasing patrols with Afghan soldiers. Among them was Maulawi Mahmood, the senior commander for the key Kandahar district of Maiwand, Dorrian said.
However, taking out senior Taliban hasn’t slowed the fierce pace of attacks, many of them from roadside bombs, or prevented a campaign of assassinations and kidnappings of Afghan civilians working with the government.
Five Afghan health workers were kidnapped on Wednesday just outside Maiwand, and at least two local officials were assassinated in the provincial capital. Insurgents also attacked the Kandahar city headquarters of an elite police unit this week, killing three American troops, one Afghan police officer and five Afghan civilians.
Last month was the deadliest of the war for international forces, with 103 coalition troops killed. So far in July, least 47 international troops have been killed, at least 35 of them American.