KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO forces captured two key insurgent leaders in Afghanistan, while a service member was killed in a deadly bombing that raised to three the number of coalition troops killed since the new year began, the multinational alliance said Sunday.
The NATO fatalities — all in the Taliban’s traditional southern stronghold — kicked off 2011 on a grim note for the international coalition. The British Defense Ministry identified one of two troops killed Saturday as British.
NATO officials say they are making major progress in the war but note that the gains are reversible. Insurgents are using Pakistan as a base for some of their operations, and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is widely seen by many Afghans and international observers as so far unable to offer key services to a population struggling for a sense of normalcy amid years of war.
The coalition, however, has stepped up efforts to quell the insurgency — issuing daily announcements of Taliban leaders or their aides captured or killed in joint operations with their Afghan counterparts. The aim is to both undercut the insurgency and to pressure the Taliban to consider peacemaking.
A delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council, set up last October by Mr. Karzai, will travel to Pakistan on Tuesday to try to initiate talks with the Taliban, said Ataullah Ludin, deputy chairman of the 70-member peace council.
While the council pursued peace, NATO was pressing ahead with its military operations.
The coalition said a senior Taliban leader who was directly involved in a Dec. 18 suicide car bombing in the southern city of Kandahar was captured on Saturday. That attack, which targeted a district chief, killed two passers-by and wounded at least nine others. The coalition did not provide other details about the Taliban leader.
In the east, a region bordering Pakistan, NATO said it had arrested an insurgent leader in the feared Haqqani network — al-Qaeda-linked militants who operate out of neighboring Pakistan and launch attacks in eastern Afghanistan. That militant, who NATO said was responsible for coordinating attacks against coalition forces, was captured in Khost province.
The coalition on Saturday announced the arrest of another Haqqani network leader in the same province.
Separately, the multinational force identified a Taliban leader it said was killed in a Dec. 30 operation in the northern province of Kunduz. NATO said Bahadur served as the deputy “shadow governor” for the province and that he provided financial and logistical aid to Taliban leaders and fighters in Kunduz.
Provincial officials earlier identified the man as Maulvi Bahadar and said he was the Taliban’s acting shadow governor for the province for several months. The Taliban have set up so-called shadow governors in many provinces, claiming to be the legitimate authority in the area.
“The death of Bahadur is a direct blow to the Taliban insurgency, eliminating a key planner and enabler of operations against innocent Afghan people,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Hynes, the director of NATO‘s joint operations command center.
NATO also confirmed the death and identity of another Taliban leader in Kunduz. Abdul Hai was killed on Dec. 31 by coalition forces, NATO said. Officials previously had disclosed the operation, but it was unclear whether the Taliban leader was among those killed.
Fighting has intensified in Afghanistan’s north, once viewed as a relatively safe region, as the Taliban expand from their traditional southern strongholds and launch operations elsewhere in the country.
That has contributed to a surge in NATO troop fatalities, with a record 702 killed in 2010.