- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops called in air strikes during a raid on a militant cell in western Afghanistan on Thursday, killing 15 insurgents while freeing 15 hostages, officials said.

NATO, meanwhile, said its troops in the south have killed a senior Taliban commander, while the U.S.-led coalition reported its forces along with Afghan security forces killed “several militants” in the same region.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military reported that eight civilians were killed in an air strike in the western province of Farah during a Tuesday raid against suspected militants, Reuters news agency reported.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said 15 militants, including two Taliban commanders, were killed during the operation in the western province of Herat on Thursday.

Gen. Jalandar Shah, the Afghan army’s corps commander for western Afghanistan, said U.S. Special Forces assisted Afghan troops during the operation.

Humayun Azizi, head of the provincial council, said the raid targeted a militant cell in the Zerko area of Shindand district that was involved in kidnappings, roadside bombings and other attacks.

The raid comes amid concerns that the Taliban-led insurgency is gaining momentum seven years after the hard-line Islamic regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion. Just this week, militants penetrated an American outpost in the east, killing nine soldiers.

In response to the increased bloodshed, Pentagon leaders have said they are looking for ways to send additional troops to Afghanistan this year, and announced Thursday they would send close to 800 more bomb-resistant vehicles. The hulking vehicles protect troops from powerful roadside bombs. There already are nearly 700 such vehicles in Afghanistan.

Gen. Azimi said Thursday’s raid in Shindand freed 15 hostages held by the group.

“During the operation a number of men were discovered handcuffed and imprisoned in appalling conditions in one of the insurgent compounds; they are now receiving medical care,” a NATO statement said.

Four civilians were wounded during the operation and were brought to Herat hospital for treatment, Gen. Azizi said. Abdul Shukur, the Shindand police chief, said two local militant commanders and two of their sons were among the dead.

Separately, NATO said its troops killed Bismullah Akhund, an insurgent leader in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition said “several militants” were killed in the Nahr Surkh district of Helmand on Wednesday.

Also Thursday, the coalition said its troops along with Afghan security forces uncovered and destroyed a large weapons cache in northern Afghanistan, a usually quiet region.

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