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Afghan security forces kill 15 militants

Afghan security forces raided a southern village and killed 15 suspected militants, including a relative of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, an army general said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Security forces raided a southern Afghan village and killed 15 suspected militants, including a relative of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, while fighting and attacks elsewhere left 25 people dead, an army general said Monday.

The violence extends three weeks of the fiercest battles since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, and U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann said the insurgents are proving to be better organized and greater in numbers than expected.

Neumann predicted there would be no letup in the offensive against the Taliban when thousands of British, Canadian and Dutch troops deploy to the volatile south by next month to take over for U.S. troops.

“I think you will now see a very strong press-back,” he told reporters in Kabul. “I think a lot of unfortunate people who believe the Taliban and fight with them are going to die.”

Mullah Omar’s brother-in-law, Mullah Amanullah, was killed along with 14 other insurgents in Siachave village, Uruzgan province, when troops stormed the area late Sunday after a tip from tribesmen, said Afghan army commander Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi.

Amanullah, whose body was recovered from the village, was the Taliban commander in the province’s Dihrawud district and responsible for numerous rebel attacks, Raufi said.

It was not clear how close Amanullah was to Omar, who is believed hiding in mountains along Afghanistan’s rugged border with Pakistan.

Coalition military spokesman Sgt. Chris Miller said the military was looking into the report that Amanullah had been killed.

Six other suspected militants were captured and several assault rifles and rocket launchers seized in the raid on the village, 50 miles north of Kandahar city, Raufi said.

2 Canadians wounded near Kandahar
Two Canadian soldiers were wounded Monday in a battle with the Taliban outside Kandahar, Canadian media reported. Canadian Press said the soldiers were in serious condition.

In a second raid early Monday, Afghan and coalition troops killed 12 suspected militants in southern Kandahar province’s Saidan village, Raufi said.

The rebels were discovered hiding in a shop selling dried fruit, sparking a fierce gunbattle that followed a two-day operation tracking the insurgents.

Ten other militants were killed in neighboring Helmand province’s Sangin district late Sunday in a battle involving Afghan and British forces, the Afghan general said. One British solider was killed and two were seriously wounded, Raufi said.

The British Defense Ministry reported the death Sunday and said British soldiers were on mobile patrol when the firefight broke out.

Increase in casualties
Two civilians were killed and six others wounded when a bomb hit their car as it was crossing a bridge in eastern Paktia province, said local police chief Abdulanan Raufi. It was not clear why they were targeted.

The surge in fighting has killed about 550 people, mostly militants, since mid-May. Neumann said the rebels have stepped up attacks to scare away NATO.

“They are making a major effort, believing wrongly that the European, Canadian forces will not have the will to fight,” he said.

The new troops are part of a NATO force that is assuming responsibility for security in the south from the U.S.-led coalition. The number of foreign combat soldiers in the region will double once the transition is complete.

Drug-lord impact?
Neumann said he also believes some of the violence is being caused by drug barons inciting fighting in an effort to destabilize the region and undermine the government’s U.S.-backed counternarcotics campaign.

Neumann said a campaign by President Hamid Karzai’s administration to forcibly eradicate poppies prompted the drug lords to take action.

“President Karzai led a very strong policy to have governors eradicate poppy and to tell people not to grow,” the ambassador said. “There were efforts by drug dealers and terrorists together to prevent that. Now they are trying to use the violence to guard their wealth.”

Afghanistan supplies nearly 90 percent of the world’s opium and heroin, and some of the drug profits have long been believed to fund the Taliban.