NATO service member killed in Afghan fighting

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A coalition service member was killed in fighting in Afghanistan’s turbulent south Sunday, while a political rival of President Hamid Karzai questioned his approach to pending talks with Taliban who might be having doubts about the insurgency.

The death is the sixth among foreign fighters in Afghanistan this month, five of them Americans. The nationality of the person killed was not released in accordance with standard NATO procedure.

The southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar have seen some of the heaviest fighting between insurgents and coalition forces seeking to uproot the Taliban from their long-held strongholds.

A dozen Taliban, including a veteran commander known as Mullah Abdul Aziz, were killed in fighting with Afghan and coalition forces on Friday and Saturday in Helmand’s Sangin district, according to provincial spokesman Daood Ahmadi.

In Uruzgan province just to the north, a Taliban explosives expert, Rahmidullah, was killed Saturday in Chora district when the roadside bomb he was planting exploded prematurely, according to Chora district chief Mohammad Daood Zaheer.

Coalition and Afghan forces also killed a number of insurgents during a raid on a network of compounds in the village of Murwat Kheyl in the southern province of Paktika, NATO said. Three insurgents also were detained and a weapons cache seized, including grenades, ammunition and materials for making roadside bombs, it said.

With the conflict entering its ninth year, Mr. Karzai is hoping talks with weary insurgents could help divide the Taliban between hardcore members unwilling to compromise and those who might consider abandoning the insurgency.

However, Abdullah Abdullah, who withdrew from last year’s fraud-marred presidential election, complained that the process was opaque and the end goals unclear.

“It is being discussed behind the doors, and the people of Afghanistan, they are not aware of what they are up against,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters at a meeting in his Kabul home.

“While the majority, an absolute majority, of the people of Afghanistan would like to see a peaceful situation … at the same time they want to know what will happen to them in terms of achieving this. What are the steps that will take us there?” he said.

Mr. Karzai said Saturday he would soon name the members of the High Peace Council, whose formation was approved in June at a national peace conference in Kabul. A statement released by his office said the move marks a “significant step toward peace talks.”

The statement said members will include former Taliban, jihadi leaders, leading figures in Afghan society and women, but gave no other details. They will be prepared to negotiate with insurgents who renounce violence, honor the Afghan Constitution and sever ties with terrorist networks.

The Taliban so far have rejected peace talks while foreign troops remain in the country. Talks held in Kabul and the Maldives with an insurgent group led by ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar produced no breakthrough.

Though some observers have expressed concern about cutting any sort of deal with insurgents, foreign governments working to stabilize the Afghan government and economy have welcomed the move, especially given U.S. plans to begin withdrawing some of its forces next July.

“We warmly welcome today’s announcement,” the British Foreign Office said of Mr. Karzai’s move. “We will not bring about a more secure Afghanistan by military means alone … we have always said that a political process is needed to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end.”

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