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Taliban commander held in Afghan raid

The arrest came as US Defence Secretary Gates arrived in Afghanistan to seek ways to stop Taliban resurgence.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2007 17:36 IST

NATO and Afghan government forces, preparing for a fresh Taliban offensive in the spring, have arrested a senior Taliban commander in a raid in the south of the country, NATO said on Wednesday.

The arrest on Tuesday night in Helmand province came as United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates was in Afghanistan, seeking ways to boost President Hamid Karzai's government and stop resurgent Taliban militants.

"During the night Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF soldiers conducted a meticulously planned and executed raid," NATO said in a statement, referring to its Afghan force known as the International Security Assistance Force.

"The raid succeeded in the capture of a prominent Taliban commander who was wanted for questioning by the Afghan National Police in relation to a large number of criminal acts," it said.

The force declined to identify the commander but said he had fled from a recent NATO operation in neighbouring Kandahar province to Helmand.

Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since 2001 when US-led forces overthrew the Taliban government, which they accused of harbouring September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Fighting has tailed off since winter set in, although several big clashes have occurred in the south and east over the past week and US and NATO forces expect a fresh Taliban offensive in the spring.

NATO killed several local-level Taliban commanders in air strikes in the south last month. One of the group's top commanders, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, was killed in a U.S. air strike In Helmand on December 19.

The Afghan government said on Tuesday authorities had arrested a Taliban spokesman and aide to the group's fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, after he crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

As violence has increased in Afghanistan, pressure has mounted on Pakistan to tackle Taliban sanctuaries on its side of the lawless border.

Gates said on Tuesday militant attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan were increasing.

First Published: Jan 17, 2007 11:44 IST