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Death of Taliban commander preludes further U.S. action

KABUL (AP) – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) killed a senior Taliban commander and nine other suspected militants in southern Afghanistan, while the coalition and its Afghan allies suffered an equal number of deaths in separate attacks in the same area, officials said Monday.

The violence highlighted the deadly insurgency raging in the south as the United States prepares to deploy thousands of additional troops to reverse Taliban gains in recent years.

Senior Taliban commander Maulawi Hassan and his associates were killed Saturday when troops attacked an isolated compound in the Kajaki area of southern Helmand province, NATO said in a statement, adding there were no civilians involved.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban insurgency, which has made a comeback in the last three years following the group’s initial defeat by United States-led forces in late 2001. Afghan and coalition forces have stepped up operations against militants in southern Afghanistan, and the United States plans to send thousands of additional soldiers there this year.

On Monday, Afghan police and intelligence agents detained five Taliban militants in Oruzgan, including the group’s senior commander for the province, Mullah Azizullah, police officer Wali Jan said.

The militants were stopped in Arzo district while driving from the city of Quetta in neighboring Pakistan, Jan said.

Quetta is believed to be a safe-haven for many senior Taliban leaders, including the group’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar, according to Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the claim and says Omar is in Afghanistan.

Also Monday, Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol in southern Kandahar province’s Spin Boldak district, killing eight officers and wounding another, said Sahib Jan, a police officer.

On Sunday, a rocket slammed into the main NATO military base in the south, killing a contractor and wounding six others.

Kandahar airfield, the nerve center for the alliance’s war effort in southern Afghanistan, has been hit by many rockets in the past but Sunday’s death was the first in such an attack, another NATO statement said.

Also Sunday, two NATO soldiers were killed in a “hostile incident” in the same region, a third NATO statement said, without releasing the soldiers’ nationalities or the exact location of the attack.

President Barack Obama said Sunday that sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan must be part of a comprehensive strategy that includes an exit plan.

“What we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems,” Obama said on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” ”So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s got to be an exit strategy. There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”

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