KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan and NATO forces targeted suspected insurgent strongholds in a joint operation in southern Kandahar province, killing 15 and capturing 13, an Afghan official said Monday.

NATO and Afghan forces have been trying to seize control of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan since July. They have established some pockets of security but the ultimate success of the operation will depend on the Afghan government's ability to secure the area with its own forces and provide services to the population.

The 14-hour operation on Sunday began before dawn and lasted until early evening in Arghistan and Maruf districts, provincial spokesman Zelmai Ayubi said.

In a separate incident in the south, a rocket exploded in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, killing one civilian and wounding four, said Kamaluddin Khan, the provincial deputy police chief.

In the east, NATO said a service member was killed by a bomb on Monday did not give a name or nationality or other details.

Insurgents often cross over the border into mountainous eastern Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.

The latest death brings to 621 the number of NATO soldiers killed this year.

Separately, the Afghan Ministry of Education condemned the burning of a school in Laghman province east of Kabul. The ministry said gunmen set fire to the girls' middle school Sunday night, burning the structure and its contents, including 850 copies of the Quran, the ministry said.