British say Taliban leader gives up, another slain

A senior Taliban leader has surrendered to Pakistani authorities and another insurgent commander was killed by a British airstrike in southern Afghanistan, British officials announced Tuesday.

A suicide bomber blew himself up earlier in the day in the Afghan capital, wounding three civilians, while clashes in the country's west prompted U.S.-led forces to use airstrikes on Taliban militants, officials said.

Lt. Col. Robin Matthews, a spokesman at the British Defense Ministry in London, said Mullah Rahim, the most senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan's Helmand province, gave himself up to Pakistani officials Saturday, the AP reported.

He gave no other details and there was no immediate confirmation from Pakistan.

Matthews also said a precision missile strike by British aircraft just after midnight Sunday killed Abdul Rasaq, a Taliban leader who led fighters in the Musa Qala area of Helmand province.

Rasaq, also known as Mullah Rahim, was the third senior Taliban leader to killed by the British in recent months. The ministry said Bishmullah, a key strategist for the Taliban, was killed July 12 and another planner and bomb-maker, Sadiqullah, was killed in late June.

Helmand's governor, Mangal, said the slaying of Rasaq was good news for his province.

"I advise all those Taliban who are engaging with terrorist actions that the fighting has no benefits," Mangal said in a speech the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, according to the British statement.

The British spokesman said the recent killings of top leaders was a blow to the insurgency, but cautioned that Taliban fighters are still a threat.

"They remain a dangerous enemy, but they increasingly lack strategic direction and their proposition to the Afghan people is proving ultimately negative and self-defeating," Matthews said.

Violence has risen with a resurgence by the Taliban nearly seven years after the U.S.-led invasion ousted the militant Islamic movement from power.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing in Kabul on Tuesday.

The suicide attacker set off his explosives next to the walls of the city's historic Babur Gardens, a popular public park, police official Ali Shah Paktiawal said. The wounded civilians were riding on a minibus hit by the blast, Paktiawal said.

In the fighting in the west, regional police spokesman Rauf Ahmadi said troops of the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan army called in airstrikes Tuesday against Taliban militants in the Bala Buluk district of Farah province.

The joint force has been battling militants there since Monday afternoon, he said. Tuesday's fighting killed two police officers and wounded three, while some 25 militants were wounded or killed, he said.

A coalition spokesman, 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, declined to provide any details on the continuing fighting in Bala Buluk because of operational security reasons.

However, he confirmed a suicide bomber on a bike aimed for a coalition patrol in Farah's Bakwa district and a roadside bomb hit a separate coalition patrol in neighboring Gulistan district Monday. Insurgents attacked a coalition convoy with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades Tuesday, also in Bala Baluk, he said.

Perry would not say if any soldiers had been wounded but said none were killed.

In a news conference Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of a U.S.-led combined security training force, addressed the recent rise in violence.

Speaking to reporters in Washington by video from Kabul, Cone confirmed there has been an increase in attacks. But, he added, "the Afghan military has stepped up to this in a way that we haven't seen before."

Cone said 2,300 more police trainers were needed. Fifteen nations are contributing to the training force, he said, helping to secure the rule of law at the provincial level.

Across the country in eastern Afghanistan, gunmen early Tuesday killed the spokesman for the governor of Paktika province, Ghamai Khan Mohammadyar, and wounded his wife, his brother and his mother.

Hashmatullah Yusufi, the spokesman for the governor in neighboring Paktia province, confirmed the incident. Mohammadyar lived in Paktia but worked in Paktika, Yusufi said.

On Monday night, militants killed four brothers - all policemen - and kidnapped their father from Qarabagh district in central Ghazni province, said a statement from the Ministry of Interior. Police are searching for the father.

More than 2,500 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year in Afghanistan, according to an Associated Press tally of official figures.

The Taliban insurgency is primarily concentrated in the south and east, but significant fighting is occurring in the west and central parts of the country.

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