KABUL, (AP) – Operations aimed at protecting supply routes through northern Afghanistan from Taliban attack killed at least 29 militants, including two commanders, over four days, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.
Elsewhere, a foreign solider was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, NATO said, the third foreign death that day following an earlier announcement of the loss of two Dutch marines in the southern province of Uruzgan. The third soldier’s nationality and other details of the incident were being withheld pending family notification, it said.
So far this month, 24 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan, where foreign troop levels are climbing toward 130,000 in a push to cripple the resurgent Taliban insurgency. An Afghan policeman was also killed during mine clearance operations in the southern province of Kandahar, the Interior Ministry said.
Afghan and international forces launched an offensive last week in the northern province of Baghlan to push the Taliban out of a number of districts, including the outskirts of the provincial capital, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of Kabul. Insurgents had stepped up attacks in the formerly calm province as part of efforts to disrupt a key northern overland supply route for international forces.
NATO air strikes bombarded insurgent positions, killing 29 and wounding 52, said Zemeri Bashary, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Afghan police force.
At least three Afghan police and four German soldiers have been killed in the fighting. Bashary said the operation was continuing on Sunday.
Among the Taliban killed were two important commanders, Bashary said. He said he had no information on deaths or injuries among civilians.
“The goal of the operation in Baghlan is to bring peace and stability where it was under the threat of the militants,” Bashary said. “The operation that began four days ago and is ongoing has so far fortunately achieved good results.”
Bashary also said authorities were pursuing various channels in hopes of freeing five Afghan workers for the U.N. Office of Project Services who were taken hostage Thursday in Baghlan. The U.N. has said it is working with the Afghan Ministry of Interior to seek their release.
Violence in the north has proved an increasing distraction from NATO’s main focus on Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, where Afghan and international forces are conducting operations in preparation for a major push against the Taliban in the group’s spiritual heartland.
The operation’s aim is to reassert central government control in the region ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
Afghanistan’s Western backers have insisted that the military offensive must be complemented by efforts to reform the flawed electoral system, in order to regain Afghans’ trust in their leaders.
President Hamid Karzai on Saturday named a respected former judge to head the Independent Electoral Commission, an organizing body, and ended his bid to exclude international representatives from a separate independent fraud-monitoring group.
The moves meet long-standing international demands that the electoral process be cleaned up after massive fraud in last year’s presidential balloting. Afghanistan risked losing both funds for an upcoming parliamentary vote and broader international support without meeting those demands.
Disagreements about how to handle the fraud-marred presidential vote nearly derailed the U.S.-Afghan partnership, even as President Barack Obama was ordering thousands more U.S. troops to try to turn back the Taliban.