Key Tal­iban chief seized in lead­er­ship raid

U.s., Afghan troops kill 31 in­sur­gents in strate­gic sweep

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAYBRIEFING - By Deb Riechmann

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and Afghan troops ap­pre­hended a key Tal­iban fig­ure af­ter a four-hour gun­bat­tle — part of a strat­egy that NATO said Thurs­day had elim­i­nated more than 100 in­sur­gent lead­ers in the past four months.

The lo­cal Tal­iban leader — iden­ti­fied by lo­cal Afghan of­fi­cials as Mul­lah Nazar Mo­ham­mad, the Tal­iban district chief of Now Zad — was seized and 31 in­sur­gents were killed late Wed­nes­day at a com­pound in the re­mote Baghran district in the north­ern part of Hel­mand prov­ince.

The cam­paign to dis­rupt the Tal­iban’s mi­dlevel com­mand struc­ture is mov­ing into high gear just as the Afghan govern­ment is poised to of­fer eco­nomic in­cen­tives to lure low-level in­sur­gents off the bat­tle­field — a twin ap­proach to pres­sure the Tal­iban’s top ech­e­lon into seek­ing peace.

The cam­paign against the Tal­iban lead­er­ship — a strat­egy used suc­cess­fully against in­sur­gents in Iraq — is in­ten­si­fy­ing at a time of ris­ing vi­o­lence and grow­ing con­cern over the di­rec­tion of the war.

The 120,000-mem­ber NATO-led force is await­ing the ar­rival of a new com­man­der, Gen. David Pe­traeus, who has warned of hard fight­ing this sum­mer.

Sur­prise attacks against the Tal­iban lead­er­ship are car­ried out mostly by U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops, whose num­bers in Afghanistan have tripled in the past year. From April 1 to June 25, 110 Tal­iban fig­ures, in­clud­ing shadow gov­er­nors, com­man­ders and their deputies, and bomb mak­ers, have been cap­tured and 32 have been killed, said Lt. Col. John Dor­rian, an op­er­a­tions spokesman at NATO head­quar­ters in Kabul.

He said an­other 500 in­sur­gents have been killed or ap­pre­hended in the near-daily op­er­a­tions — largely in south­ern Afghanistan, where the Tal­iban are strong­est.

“In­tel­li­gence is re­port­ing that the in­sur­gency is hav­ing dif­fi­culty re­plac­ing the lead­ers who have been taken off the bat­tle­field,” NATO chief spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said. “One in­sur­gent re­cently cap­tured told the as­sault force that cap­tured him that he was … tired of run­ning.”

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