THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Strike in Helmand killed top Taliban figure, NATO says

8 Afghan police die as violence surges in south

Afghan villagers in an opium poppy-growing region of southwest Afghanistan spoke yesterday with a counter-intelligence Marine seeking information to thwart Taliban attacks on US forces. Afghan villagers in an opium poppy-growing region of southwest Afghanistan spoke yesterday with a counter-intelligence Marine seeking information to thwart Taliban attacks on US forces. (John Moore/ Getty Images)
By Sebastian Abbot
Associated Press / March 24, 2009
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KABUL - NATO troops killed a senior Taliban commander and nine other militants in southern Afghanistan, officials said yesterday, striking a blow in the group's heartland where the United States plans to send thousands of additional troops to stem the growing violence.

Over a dozen Afghan and coalition forces have been killed in the south in recent days, including eight Afghan police who were killed by Taliban fighters yesterday in Kandahar province.

US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001, but many of the militants fled south and east to Pakistan where they have been launching cross-border attacks into Afghanistan alongside Al Qaeda. President Obama has already pledged to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan this year and is working to overhaul US strategy with the hope of improving security and stability in the country.

Senior Taliban commander Maulawi Hassan and his associates were killed Saturday when NATO troops attacked an isolated compound in southern Helmand province, NATO said in a statement, adding that there were no civilians involved.

"Maulawi Hassan was a senior insurgent figure in northern Helmand, and his influence extended into western Oruzgan," the statement said.

Afghan forces have also stepped up their operations against militants in the south.

Yesterday, Afghan police and intelligence agents detained five Taliban militants in Oruzgan, including the group's senior commander for the province, Mullah Azizullah, said police officer Wali Jan.

The militants were stopped in Arzo district while driving from the city of Quetta in neighboring Pakistan, Jan said.

Quetta is believed to be a safe haven for many senior Taliban leaders, including the group's supreme leader, Mullah Omar, according to Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the claim and says Omar is in Afghanistan.

The eight Afghan police who were killed yesterday were ambushed by Taliban fighters while on patrol in southern Kandahar province's Spin Boldak district, said Sahib Jan, a police officer. The attack also wounded one policeman, he said.

On Sunday, a rocket slammed into the main NATO military base in the south, killing a contractor and wounding six others.

Two NATO soldiers also were killed Sunday in a "hostile incident" in the south, a third NATO statement said, without releasing the soldiers' nationalities or the exact location of the attack.

Obama said in a broadcast interview Sunday that sending additional US troops to Afghanistan must be part of a comprehensive strategy that includes an exit plan to avoid "perpetual drift."

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to extend the UN mission in Afghanistan for a year with a mandate to lead international civilian efforts to provide aid, promote reconstruction, combat corruption and help improve civilian-military cooperation.

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