SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Three Taliban commanders have been arrested in a U.S.-led sweep of southeastern Afghanistan aimed at crushing members of the former regime and their al Qaeda allies, an Afghan army officer says.
At least 12 Taliban fighters have been killed in the week-old offensive which U.S. officials hope will snare al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Rebels fired three rockets into the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, wounding two people, including a child, police said. Two more rockets landed in the capital, Kabul, on Saturday evening, but caused no damage or injuries.
The three Taliban commanders were arrested on Friday in a raid in Zabul province in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation, said General Fateh Khan, an Afghan army officer based in the southeast of the country.
U.S.-led forces were hunting a former Taliban provincial governor, Mullah Abdul Razzaq, when they caught the three, identified as Mullah Naimatullah, Mullah Saleh Mohammad and Mullah Baluch. A mullah is an Islamic cleric and many senior Taliban members use the title.
Many weapons were seized in the raid, Khan said.
It was not clear how powerful the three captured men were and U.S. authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Twelve Taliban fighters were killed in an air strike on their truck in Kandahar province on Thursday, Afghan army officers said.
They were the first reported casualties in Operation “Mountain Storm”, which began on March 7 and involves troops from the 13,500-strong U.S.-led force backed by air support.
U.S. defence officials have described “Mountain Storm” as a broad spring offensive to hunt down al Qaeda fugitives, including bin Laden.
SURGE IN ATTACKS
In a separate battle in the same area, about 60 Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan army base near the Pakistan border on Friday night.
One government soldier was killed and two were wounded. Three of the attackers were killed before they withdrew towards Pakistani territory, said Kandahar police officer, General Salim Khan.
Pakistan forces, helped by some tribal militia fighters, say they are sealing the Pakistan side of the mountainous Afghan border to stop militants fleeing into Pakistan’s remote, lawless tribal lands.
The fresh U.S.-led campaign comes after a surge in militant attacks on aid workers and foreigners, as well as against Afghan and U.S.-led forces.
Commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeepers in Kabul, said only one of the two rockets fired at the capital exploded — on a hill close to the city centre.
It was unclear what the target had been, but the rocket had shot over a main compound of U.S.-led forces, the U.N. headquarters and ISAF’s main base, which is close to the U.S. embassy and President Hamid Karzai’s palace, he said.
“The way these things are launched is somebody lights the fuse, plugs their ears, and hopes for the best,” Henderson said.
Kabul has seen several such rocket attacks this year, blamed on militants, but none has caused significant injury or damage.