NATO says kills senior Haqqani commander in Afghanistan

KABUL Wed Oct 5, 2011 8:29am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - NATO-led forces fighting in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that an airstrike had killed a senior commander of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network and two of his associates in eastern Khost province, near the Pakistan border.

Dilawar, who was only known by one name, was a "principal subordinate" to Haji Mali Khan, who NATO captured last week and said at the time was the top Haqqani commander for Afghanistan.

Dilawar's death is "another significant loss for the insurgent group," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that described his responsibilities as including coordinating attacks on Afghan forces and arranging weapons deliveries.

NATO also said that Dilawar helped foreign militants move into Afghanistan and had links with both al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The Afghan and coalition force had conducted more than 530 operations to disrupt Haqqani network activities in eastern Afghanistan so far this year, NATO said.

Around 1,400 suspected Haqqani insurgents had been captured this year, 100 since the start of October alone, and 20 network leaders killed, NATO said.

The Haqqani network is one of three Taliban-allied insurgent factions fighting in Afghanistan and perhaps the most feared -- they are thought to have introduced suicide bombing to the country and be behind many high-profile attacks.

They have sworn allegiance to the Taliban, but have long been suspected of also having ties to Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.

The outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before the U.S. Senate after an attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul believed to be the work of the group, that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the group, says it no longer needs sanctuaries in Pakistan and it feels safe operating in Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Zhou Xin; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison)

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