updated 3/23/2009 4:02:57 PM ET 2009-03-23T20:02:57

NATO troops killed a senior Taliban commander and nine other militants in southern Afghanistan, officials said Monday, striking a blow in the group's heartland where the U.S. 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 Monday in the Kandahar province.

U.S.-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-Qaida. President Barack Obama has already pledged to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan this year and is working with his team to overhaul U.S. 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 the Kajaki area of 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.

On Monday, 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.

Ambushed by Taliban
The eight Afghan police who were killed Monday 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.

Kandahar airfield, the nerve center for the alliance's war effort in southern Afghanistan, has been hit by many rockets in the past but Sunday's death was the first in such an attack, another NATO statement said.

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. The deaths came two days after four Canadian troops and a NATO soldier also were killed in the south.

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

Obama's comments were a prelude to a revamped plan for fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is expected to be announced this week. On Friday, a military official said the overhauled U.S. strategy would call for new garrisons in far-flung Afghan communities to better hold off the Taliban.

Goal of containing insurgency
Obama's plan covers the next three to five years, with the goals of containing the insurgency, heading off the possibility that it could topple Afghanistan's fragile central government and providing enough security for Afghan citizens that they reject the insurgents, the official said Friday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the review was not complete.

In the interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Obama said the most difficult decision he has had to make in his 2-month-old presidency was to send more troops to Afghanistan, which he decided before completion of the strategic review on the region.

He said every time he has to sign a condolence letter for the family of a fallen soldier he is reminded that "the decisions you make count."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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