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NATO names 'killed' Taliban chief

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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A day after saying it killed a "key" senior Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan in a precision airstrike, NATO's International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Monday identified him as Abdul Ghafour.

"By removing him, we have disrupted their command and control and made it more difficult for the insurgency to plan their next move," said ISAF spokesman Col. Tom Collins.

"The strike was made by ISAF forces at the request of Government of Afghanistan after the Taliban had threatened the local elders and their governing authority."

Ghafour was killed Sunday in what NATO described as a "precisely planned and well executed operation" in which he was targeted and taken out while driving his car in an isolated area outside the village of Musa Qala.

On Friday, the Musa Qala district in Helmand province was overrun by Taliban militants who pushed out a locally raised force of auxiliary police loyal to the Afghan government, shattering the fragile British-backed truce negotiated with the tribal elders of the town -- a deal that had been poorly received by Western officials who saw it as a NATO retreat. The militant takeover also threatened a wider series of local peace agreements being negotiated in the Helmand province.

NATO spokesman and squadron leader Dave Marsh said Ghafour was "directly responsible for the recent uprising and insurgent attacks within the village of Musa Qala" and was "well known to have commanded insurgents within" the district.

"Several secondary explosions occurred after the airstrike, indicating there were sources of explosives and ammunition within the vehicle," Marsh added.

The operation was fully coordinated with the Afghan government and no civilians were injured or killed, although nearby surroundings did sustain "minimal damage."

The airstrike was launched on the same day American Gen. Dan McNeill took command of the NATO-led forces, replacing British Gen. David Richards.

The change in command could signal a new approach in the area since there is considerable doubt Gen. McNeill supports the same strategy his predecessor supported -- a strategy which effectively left Musa Qala tribal elders in charge of security in the area without NATO troop backing.

That situation abruptly ended Friday night after what some reports say was a 300-strong group of Taliban militants who stormed the district's center, pressured the tribal elders and took down the Afghan national flag.

Less than 24 hours after the militant takeover, Gen. Richards announced that forces would "kick the Taliban out and defeat them" and "put the tribal elders back in control of Musa Qala."


U.S. commander Gen. Dan McNeil, left, claps as Afghan President Hamid Karzai shakes hands with British Gen. David Richards.




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