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U.S. doubts top Taliban figure captured

Foreign security guards stand near the scene of a car bomb explosion in Herat on Thursday.
Foreign security guards stand near the scene of a car bomb explosion in Herat on Thursday. Fraidoon Pooyaa / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Officials of the U.S.-led coalition lauded Afghan security forces Friday for repulsing Taliban militants in fierce fighting but raised doubts over Afghan claims that a captured man might be a top rebel leader.

A 24-hour storm of violence in southern Afghanistan ended Thursday with about 120 people dead and dozens of militants in custody, coalition and Afghan officials said.

One of the fighters captured in a joint Afghan-coalition operation in Kandahar province Wednesday could be the long-sought Mullah Dadullah, Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi, head of the Afghan military’s southern region, said Friday.

The capture of Dadullah — one of the most trusted associates of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and commander of Taliban operations in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan — would be a major setback for the Taliban’s operational leadership.

U.S. raises doubts over capture
But a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, said that after checking with coalition officials, it appeared the detained man was not Dadullah, who lost a leg fighting for the Taliban during the Islamic militia’s rise to power in the mid-1990s.

“The best information I have — and I could be wrong — but the best information I have is that it’s a ’no,”’ he said.

In apparent contrast to the often disappointing efforts of the U.S.-financed security forces in Iraq, Afghan police and soldiers have gained some stature in dealing with escalating attacks in the volatile south, which is a former Taliban heartland.

Coalition officials saluted the Afghan police force in the southern town of Musa Qala for repelling one of the Taliban’s biggest attacks since the militants were driven from power in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition.

Afghan forces lauded
Some 300 to 400 Taliban militants attacked the police and government headquarters in the small Helmand province town Wednesday. Before fighting ended eight hours later, up to 60 militants and 16 Afghan police officers were killed, the coalition said Friday.

A coalition military spokesman, Maj. Quentin Innis, said coalition aircraft flew overhead as a show of force, but the Afghan police forces did 100 percent of the fighting.

“We see this as them taking control of the situation and sorting it out for themselves,” he said. “We see it as very empowering on their part, and of course that’s what we want, because eventually we’re going to leave.”

Raufi, the Afghan general, said a one-legged militant thought to possibly be Dadullah was captured in another clash Wednesday in neighboring Kandahar province.

About 18 militants and a female Canadian soldier died in that fighting in Panjwayi district. Some 35 militants were captured, and a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Karim Rahimi, said three high-ranking Taliban commanders were among them, but did not know their names.

Innis said Panjwayi is Mullah Omar’s hometown, helping to explain the high level of militant activity there. Wednesday’s fight was the third engagement there since mid-April, he said.