US. and Afghan troops seized a key Taliban figure after a four-hour gunbattle - part of a strategy that NATO officials said had eliminated more than 100 insurgent leaders in the past four months. The campaign to disrupt the Taliban's midlevel command structure is moving into high gear as a new Afghan government is poised to offer economic incentives to lure low-level foot soldiers off the battlefield - a twin approach to pressure the Taliban's top echelon into seeking peace.
The campaign against the Taliban leadership - a strategy used successfully against both Sunni and Shiite insurgents in Iraq - is intensifying at a time of rising violence and growing concern in Washington and other allied capitals over the direction of the war. The 120,000-member NATO-led force is awaiting the arrival of a new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, who has warned of hard fighting this summer. Surprise attacks against the Taliban leadership are carried out mostly by U.S. special operations troops, whose numbers in Afghanistan have tripled in the past year. Between April 1 and June 25, 110 Taliban figures, including shadow governors, commanders and their deputies and bomb-makers, have been captured and 32 killed, according to Lt. Col. John Dorrian, an operations spokesman at NATO headquarters in Kabul.
He said another 500 insurgents were killed or apprehended in the nearly daily operations - largely in the south where the Taliban are strongest. "Intelligence is reporting that the insurgency is having difficulty replacing the leaders who have been taken off the battlefield," NATO chief spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said.
"One insurgent recently captured told the assault force that captured him that he was ... tired of running." The latest reported capture happened Wednesday night when a prominent local Taliban leader was seized and 31 insurgents killed at a compound in the remote Baghran district in the northern part of Helmand province. Taliban fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns before troops ordered a precision airstrike on their compound.
Convinced they are winning, the Taliban say they have no interest in reconciliation talks or the reintegration program, which Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said amount to empty promises from President Hamid Karzai's "puppet" government. "We have no interest in reconciliation with the enemy who has occupied Afghanistan or the puppets supporting foreign forces," Mujahid told The Associated Press. "We don't care about our own lives. For the past nine years, we have sacrificed for the Islamic system and the freedom of Afghans."