Coalition strike kills senior Taliban leader in Helmand
Coalition forces killed a senior Taliban commander in northern Helmand along with nine of his associates during a targeted airstrike in this southern Afghan province.
Maulawi Hassan and nine other Taliban fighters were killed after Coalition aircraft pounded his compound in the district of Kajaki. Hassan was "a senior insurgent figure in northern Helmand, and his influence extended into western Uruzgan," the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release on the attack. He rose to prominence in the fall of 2008 and was "heavily involved" in the execution of suicide attacks and roadside bomb attacks.
Hassan "answered to senior Taliban Mullah Rahmatullah who directs insurgent activity from outside Afghanistan," ISAF reported. ISAF identified Abdul Qayoum Zakir, Mullah Naim Barich, and Akhtar Mohammed Mansour as three other senior Taliban leaders who direct operations from outside Afghanistan after Taliban commander Jamaluddin Hanif and a "prominent facilitor" named Maulawi Mohammed Saddiq were killed during a March 16 airstrike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province.
The Taliban leadership for southern Afghanistan, including overall Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is known to be based out of Quetta in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. The US is considering expanding its airstrike campaign from Pakistan's tribal areas into Baluchistan, according to a report in The New York Times.
Northern Helmand province is a strategic region and a long-time haven for Taliban forces. NATO and Afghan forces have battled the Taliban in the Kajaki district and the upper Helmand for more than two years. The Kajaki Dam has been a major reconstruction project, and the Afghan government hopes to restore the dam to provide energy for the region. Last September, more than 2,000 British troops transported the last of three turbines needed to bring the dam online.
Helmand province is one of the most violent in Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken advantage of local support and the opium drug industry to maintain a foothold in the province. The US Marines have killed more than 500 Taliban fighters in Helmand province after surging into the region in 2008.
The fighting in southern Afghanistan has heated up over the past week as the spring fighting season begins. The US and the Taliban are surging forces into Afghanistan for what is expected to be the toughest year of fighting since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The March 21 airstrike took place just two days after Afghan and Coalition forces killed more than thirty Taliban fighters in the Gereshk district in Helmand. Also, in neighboring Kandahar province, Afghan troops detained 22 Taliban fighters, including an unnamed "famous militant figure."
But large regions of Helmand remain under Taliban control, according to provincial officials. The Afghan government controls only eight of the 13 districts in Helmand, Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand said, according to a translation of a Pashtu-language newspaper provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
The Afghan Army and British military are looking to restore some of these uncontrolled regions back to the government. More than 500 British and Afghan troops have pushed into the southern regions of the Garmsir district as well and the Reg and Disho districts during a recently completed one-month-long reconnaissance operation. "It is the first time such a sizeable reconnaissance force has been into the area -- notorious as an ungoverned space allowing freedom of movement for insurgent fighters, equipment and narcotics," the British Ministry of Defense reported.