Afghan, NATO troops pursue Haqqani fighters

By Deb Riechmann-Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More than 20 insurgents including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters have been killed by NATO and Afghan forces who are ramping up operations in the east against a Taliban faction linked to al-Qaida, the international coalition said Saturday.

Separately, three more NATO troops — an American, a Briton and an Australian — died in separate insurgent attacks in the volatile south, officials of the three countries said Saturday.

The joint force operation began Wednesday against dozens of insurgents holed up in a mountainous area of Zadran district of Paktia province. The operation focused on disrupting the Haqqani network’s movement in an area used to stage attacks in the capital, Kabul, and along a highway that links Khost province and Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia, NATO said.

More than 20 insurgents have been killed, the coalition said. Combined security forces also discovered and destroyed multiple explosive devices and bomb-making equipment, including trip wire and blasting caps, weapons and ammunition. A coalition airstrike destroyed an enemy ammunitions bunker, NATO said.

Three small children were killed and their mother was wounded when a civilian house was hit by an insurgent rocket in Khost city late Friday, provincial spokesman Mubarez Zadran said. He said the insurgents appeared to have been aiming at a coalition base but missed.

The U.S. considers the Haqqani group, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, as one of the most dangerous Taliban networks because of its links to al-Qaida. The group is suspected of playing a major role in the Dec. 30 bombing of a CIA base in Khost as well as a series of attacks in Kabul. It is based in the western border area of Pakistan, where U.S. forces cannot operate on the ground.

“The Haqqani network continually seeks to establish strongholds in the Khost-Gardez pass, disrupting the local government and facilitating the movement of foreign fighters, explosives and weapons into Afghanistan,” said U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres, a NATO spokesman.

Two other operations in June resulted in the deaths of more than 50 Haqqani fighters. Afghan and coalition forces killed 17 fighters including a commander, Fazil Subhan, during a fierce firefight in Khost province June 9, NATO said.

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