KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO and Afghan forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and two other fighters after raiding a compound in eastern Afghanistan, the military alliance said Saturday.
Mullah Hezbollah, who operated in Wardak province, died in a gunbattle during an operation Thursday night, NATO said. Another Taliban leader, Qari Sulayman, was also killed along with the two other insurgents in the raid.
A NATO statement said the joint force was fired upon as it approached several compounds in the province’s Chaki Wardak district. The force responded, killing the four militants.
Violence continues unabated in many areas in Afghanistan, with an increase in insurgent attacks and NATO-Afghan operations now gripping the north. A suspected suicide bomber killed at least 20 people Friday — including the governor of a northern province — in a powerful blast at a mosque packed with worshippers. Thirty-five people were wounded in the brazen attack in Taluqan, capital of northern Takhar province.
The bomb targeted and killed Mohammad Omar, governor of neighboring Kunduz province, and came just days after he publicly warned of escalating threats from Taliban and foreign fighters across the north. If steps aren’t taken to counter them, Afghan and coalition forces will face "disaster," he said.
No group claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have targeted Omar previously.
Security has been deteriorating for the past two years in Kunduz and surrounding provinces — known hide-outs for the Taliban, al-Qaida and fighters from other militant factions, including the Haqqani network, Hizb-i-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The focus of the war, which entered its 10th year last week, has been on the south, but coalition troops are fighting resilient militants in both the east and north.
An airstrike and a raid by NATO ground troops Wednesday in Takhar killed eight insurgents, including a senior Taliban leader, Maulawi Jawadullah, who spearheaded attacks against Afghan security forces in the north. The coalition announced Tuesday an insurgent involved in the kidnapping of a New York Times reporter was captured in Takhar.
Fighting has also surged in southern Afghanistan since NATO and Afghan forces launched operation Dragon Strike last month in areas around Kandahar city — 260 miles (420 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Kabul — to flush out militants and destroy their strongholds. Southern Afghanistan is the birthplace of the Taliban, and the hard-line militia’s presence is strong there.
Three NATO service members were killed Friday in the south, including a Briton who died in a roadside blast in Helmand province. The deaths brought to 19 the number of NATO forces killed this month. At least 2,007 NATO service members have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, according to an Associated Press count.