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Senior Taliban leader killed in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - A senior Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan surrendered to Pakistani authorities and British forces killed another leader, dealing a “shattering blow” to the militant group’s leadership, the British army said on Tuesday.

Afghan police secure the area after a suicide bombing in Kabul July 22, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Mullah Rahim, the top commander for southern Helmand province, gave himself up after British forces had killed two other Taliban leaders in little over three weeks.

Hours after his surrender, another senior Taliban commander, Abdul Rasaq, also known as “Mullah Sheikh,” was killed in a British missile strike 15 km (9 miles) north of the town of Musa Qala in Helmand on Monday morning, the British army said in a statement. Three other insurgents also died.

Rasaq headed Taliban actions around Musa Qala and was active in the insurgency for a number of years, it said.

“The Taliban’s senior leadership structure has suffered a shattering blow,” British army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Robin Matthews said in the statement.

Musa Qala town holds a symbolic importance after Taliban fighters forced British troops out of the dusty opium-trading centre in late 2006. The Taliban then seized it in February last year making it the only town of any size held by the rebels.

Afghan, British and U.S. forces took back Musa Qala in an offensive in December but Taliban insurgents are still active around the town.

Elsewhere, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces backed by airpower killed or wounded more than 30 Taliban insurgents in fighting in the west of Afghanistan, a senior police official said on Tuesday.

Fighting broke out in the Bala Boluk district of Farah province on Tuesday, regional police chief Ikramuddin Yawar said.

“The toll might be more than 30 because the operation is ongoing,” Yawar told Reuters.

SUICIDE ATTACK

A U.S.-led convoy was hit by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on Tuesday morning in Bala Boluk, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Air strikes were called in but no munitions were dropped. The U.S. military could not confirm if any Taliban were killed dead. International forces do not usually give casualty figures for insurgents.

In the capital, Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber wounded five civilians when he blew himself up as he was challenged by police on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said.

Taliban militants have launched some 100 suicide attacks so far this year, mostly targeting Afghan and international security forces but as many as 80 percent of their victims are civilians, security experts say.

The bomber struck in the morning in the Gozargah area of the capital, next to the walls of the historic tomb of Babur, the 16th century founder of India’s Mughal dynasty. Only a leg of the bomber remained, lying on the ground, Reuters witnesses said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Yousuf Azimy and Sharafuddin Sharafyar; Writing by Jon Hemming and Jonathon Burch; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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