March 7, 2007 / 10:27 AM / 13 years ago

Burqa-clad Taliban leader caught as NATO attacks

NATO soldiers in Helmand province in a file photo. NATO began its spring offensive against the Taliban on Tuesday, launching its biggest attacks since the 2001 war on Taliban rebels and Afghan drug lords. REUTERS/Cpl Rob Knight/DMOC/Crown Copyright/Handout

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers have captured a Taliban leader who tried to flee a security operation in the south dressed in a burqa, NATO said on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s capture in Kandahar province came as NATO launched a major offensive in neighboring Helmand to secure a key hydroelectric dam and combat the opium trade.

The man was named as Mullah Mahmood and described as an expert bomb-maker. U.S.-led coalition forces also detained five more suspected militants in eastern Khost this week.

Fighting is expected to be heavy in 2007 after the bloodiest year since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. The Taliban warn they have thousands of suicide bombers ready for action.

More than 4,000 people died in fighting last year, including about 1,000 civilians. Suicide bombings jumped to 139 from 21 as insurgents copy tactics from Iraq and shy away from pitched battles that saw them suffer heavy losses.

Operation Achilles in Helmand will eventually involve about 4,500 NATO troops and 1,000 Afghan security personnel in what the alliance says is its biggest operation.

NATO says the operation’s main purpose is to create enough security for sorely needed reconstruction and development.

“We will continue our operations on enemy forces to defeat and confuse the Taliban leadership and their narco-trafficking associates and establish the conditions for reconstruction and development,” NATO spokesman Colonel Tom Collins told reporters.

Many Afghans are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of development and failure to create jobs, complaining billions of dollars in aid money are being wasted or seeping out of the country through aid agencies and foreign contractors.

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