x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Taliban commander captured, six insurgents killed, says Nato

The assault on a rebel hide-out in northern Afghanistan follows a string of recent raids on militant leaders that aim to demoralise the insurgency and sever contacts between rebel groups.

KABUL // A Taliban commander was captured and six insurgents killed in a raid on a rebel hide-out in northern Afghanistan, Nato said today. The assault in the northern province of Takhar follows a string of recent raids on militant leaders that aim to demoralise the insurgency and sever contacts between rebel groups. A joint Afghan and Nato force was fired on as it approached a compound yesterday 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. Meanwhile a suicide bomber perched on the back of a motorcycle killed five Afghan policemen and one civilian in the increasingly violent northern province of Kunduz today. Five other people were injured in the midday attack in the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, said the provincial police chief, Abdul-Razaq Yaqoubi. 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 on 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.

So far, the election campaign has been disrupted by periodic 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. Yesterday the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, toured US bases and met 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 before the US assessment of its 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. * AP