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Taliban leader killed in northern Afghanistan

Headquarters staff for the Afghan army's 2nd Brigade, 209th Corps, set up a forward command post in a vast cemetery on the outskirts of Kunduz city during a clearing operation on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015.

JOSH SMITH/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 27, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan — An airstrike has killed a senior Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan along with a number of his fighters, officials said Monday.

The attack in Kunduz province on Sunday is the latest setback for the militant group since Washington authorized an expanded role for U.S. forces, allowing them wider latitude to target the group.

Hijratullah Akbari, head of public affairs for Kunduz police, said the airstrike that killed Qari Ghafour, whom he described as “one of the famous Taliban leaders,” was carried out in Chahar Dara district. He said at least 14 of his men were also killed.

He would not specify whether it was conducted by Afghan or American forces. U.S. officials in Kabul declined to comment.

Ghafour was responsible for several terrorist attacks in the province, the Defense Ministry said.

Afghan media reports said Monday that another top Taliban commander in nearby Faryab province had surrendered to government forces amid ongoing military operations there.

NATO and Afghan officials frequently claim their forces are inflicting high death tolls on the insurgents. But those casualties have not yet had significant effect on the guerrillas’ ability to wage the war or on their recruitment efforts.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama allowed U.S. commanders to expand the use of American air power for offensive missions against the Taliban and to send troops to fight alongside regular Afghan forces. In the past they provided support only to Afghan special forces.

The change came after worrying Taliban advances across the country.

The Pentagon confirmed that the first airstrikes under the new rule were conducted on Friday, which hit Taliban targets in southern Afghanistan. Further details were not given.

Meanwhile in eastern Afghanistan, Islamic State fighters were killed in clashes with government troops, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar province’s governor.

A “massive operation” has been underway in Kot district, where Islamic State militants last week attacked homes and local police posts, abducting at least 30 people. Local officials said the militants killed civilians, including children.

The U.S. military has been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in remote parts of Nangarhar as part of its counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan.

In March, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared Islamic State defeated in eastern Afghanistan. But Khogyani said while the government remains committed to eliminating Islamic State, its fighters “are still a threat in Nangarhar.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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