Kabul: Two American troops died in fighting in Afghanistan on Thursday, while NATO said it had killed the leader of an insurgent cell responsible for laying roadside bombs and smuggling foreign fighters into the country.
NATO said one service member was killed in the country`s east, the other in the south — regions where fighting between the coalition and Taliban insurgents has been at its most intense. No other details were given in keeping with standard NATO procedure.
The deaths bring to three the number of US service members killed in September and follows a spike in casualties during the last two weeks of August that saw the monthly total rise to 55. The August figure was still below the back-to-back monthly records of 66 in July and 60 in June.
NATO said a tip had led its forces to the Taliban commander as he was riding a motorcycle in the eastern province of Paktika near the mountainous border with Pakistan, where insurgents maintain a number of safe havens.
After killing the commander with a precision air strike, NATO said it dispatched ground forces to the site where they found weapons and materials for making roadside bombs. One other insurgent was killed and one detained after the ground force later moved in on a compound frequented by the Taliban commander.
The commander was not identified by name and it wasn`t clear how many fighters he controlled.
Paktika is one of several eastern provinces where the Taliban and its allies maintain cross-border routes to smuggle in weapons and other supplies, along with militants, many of them linked to al Qaeda, who are recruited from their homelands in the Persian Gulf, North Africa and further afield to come to fight in Afghanistan.
Estimates of the number of foreign fighters in Afghanistan vary, with the vast majority of Taliban drawn from Afghanistan`s various tribes, especially in the Pashtun-dominated south.
US Special Forces have increasingly targeted Taliban field commanders as a means of attacking morale and discouraging other insurgents from taking on leadership positions, a strategy NATO hopes will turn the tide of the nearly nine-year war.
Also in Paktika, Afghan and coalition forces detained suspected insurgents linked to the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network in raids on compounds in Orgun district along the border with Pakistan on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, NATO said. The network is known for operating on both sides of the border and launched an assault on two US bases last month that was repulsed with the loss of more than 30 insurgent lives.
Also on Thursday, executives of the country`s largest financial institution, Kabul Bank, braced for a run on deposits following allegations it was deep in the red. The bank handles salary payments for Afghan soldiers and public servants and a collapse could lead to further political instability in this unstable, impoverished nation beset by the stubborn Taliban insurgency and widespread drug trafficking and plundering of aid money.