Twenty insurgents killed in Afghanistan: Nato
KABUL: At least 20 insurgents were killed in Afghanistan’s southeast in an operation against the Haqqani network, whose leader Washington wants designated a terrorist, the Nato-led alliance said on Thursday.
Air strikes were called in after Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops found dozens of insurgents in “entrenched fighting positions” in a mountainous area of Dzadran district in Paktia, not far from the Pakistan border, Isaf said in a statement.
Washington is pressuring Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network, a group allied with the Taliban and believed to have close links with al-Qaeda.
“This area is a known Haqqani network safe haven and used to stage attacks into Kabul and the Khost-Gardez pass,” Isaf said.
“An air weapons team suppressed the enemy, resulting in more than 20 insurgents killed so far.”
The Haqqani network, headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a hero of the 1980s guerrilla war against the Soviet Union, and his son, is based mainly in Pakistan’s North Waziristan and adjoining provinces in Afghanistan.
It has staged several high-profile attacks, including an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.
General James Mattis, confirmed on August 6 as the new head of the US military command overseeing operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, said last month he wanted leaders of the group designated as terrorists, a move seen as raising pressure on Pakistan to go after the group.
Pakistan sees Haqqani — who had long-standing links with its military spy agency — as likely to be a valuable asset in Afghanistan if US troops leave before the country is stabilised.
“The Haqqani network is a prevalent insurgent threat in Afghanistan right now. Afghan and coalition forces are focused on smothering their influence and power,” the statement quoted US Army Colonel Rafael Torres as saying.
Effective leadership of the group has now passed from Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is in his 70s, to his more militant eldest son, Sirajuddin, security analysts say.
Fighting in Afghanistan, led by a resurgent Taliban movement, has intensified as US troops prepare to start staged withdrawals from July 2011.
June of this year was the deadliest month for foreign forces in nearly 10 years of war.
A UN report said this week that civilian casualties had risen 31 per cent in the first half of 2010, including 1,271 killed.
Almost 150,000 foreign soldiers are under the command of Nato and the US military.