Afghan, NATO troops pursue Haqqani fighters

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The Independent Online

More than 20 insurgents including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters have been killed by NATO and Afghan forces who are ramping up operations in the east against a Taliban faction linked to al-Qaida, the international coalition said today.

Separately, two NATO troops — an American and an Australian — were killed Saturday in two different insurgent attacks in the volatile south, officials of both countries said.

The joint force operation began Wednesday against dozens of insurgents holed up in a mountainous area of Zadran district of Paktia province. The operation focused on disrupting the Haqqani network's movement in an area used to stage attacks in the capital, Kabul, and along a highway that links Khost province and Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia, NATO said.

More than 20 insurgents have been killed, the coalition said. Combined security forces also discovered and destroyed multiple explosive devices and bomb-making equipment, including trip wire and blasting caps, weapons and ammunition. A coalition airstrike destroyed an enemy ammunitions bunker, NATO said.

The US considers the Haqqani group, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, as one of the most dangerous Taliban networks because of its links to al-Qaida. The group is suspected of playing a major role in the 30 December bombing of a CIA base in Khost as well as a series of attacks in Kabul. It is based in the western border area of Pakistan, where US forces cannot operate on the ground.

"The Haqqani network continually seeks to establish strongholds in the Khost-Gardez pass, disrupting the local government and facilitating the movement of foreign fighters, explosives and weapons into Afghanistan," said US Army Col. Rafael Torres, a NATO spokesman.

Two other operations in June resulted in the deaths of more than 50 Haqqani fighters. Afghan and coalition forces killed 17 fighters including a commander, Fazil Subhan, during a fierce firefight in Khost province 9 June, NATO said.

A week later, in the Jani Khel district of Paktia province, Afghan and coalition forces killed at least 35 insurgents including several key leaders for both the Haqqani and Taliban networks. The security force killed Hamiddullah, a Haqqani commander for Sabari district in Khost province who had direct ties to Haqqani senior leadership based in Pakistan and was reportedly responsible for an ambush of an Afghan National Army unit in March, which killed three Afghan soldiers.

In the two-day offensive on the largest foreign fighter camp in the area, assault forces also killed Qari Ismail, a Taliban leader for Jani Khel district, and Maulvi Sadiq, who worked to bring foreign fighters into Afghanistan, NATO said.

NATO officials had no further details about the death of the American service member. But the Australian military said a member of the country's elite Special Air Service Regiment was shot while assisting in a "disruption operation" in the northern part of Kandahar province.

Also in the south, three Afghan civilians were killed and another was wounded by insurgents in three separate incidents in Kandahar province on Friday. Two of the civilians were killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their vehicle in Arghandab district. Another was fatally stabbed by insurgents near the governor's compound in Kandahar city.