Key Taliban chief seized in leadership raid
U.s., Afghan troops kill 31 insurgents in strategic sweep
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.”