KABUL, Afghanistan – A boat crossing a river in Afghanistan's most dangerous province sank on Saturday, and at least 60 people were killed, including Taliban militants, the Defense Ministry said.
The boat sank while crossing the Helmand River, which snakes through Helmand province, the world's leading opium poppy region and site of fierce battles the last several months. Hundreds of Taliban insurgents are believed to be in Helmand.
The Afghan army was investigating to see how many Taliban insurgents and how many civilians were on board, the ministry said. The brief statement did not say what caused the boat to sink or why officials believed militants were on board.
Elsewhere, suspected Taliban militants attacked a local police commander's home, killing five of his family members and sparking a gunbattle with police that left 10 insurgents dead, an official said.
The attack in the southeastern province of Ghazni killed the commander's wife, two sons and two nephews, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. The commander worked for Afghanistan's auxiliary police, a system of backup officers who supplement the country's regular police force.
Taliban militants often target police and government officials. More than 1,900 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count based on U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.
At a rally in Pakistan, a man described as the Taliban's new top field commander vowed in an audiotaped message to liberate Afghanistan from "American slavery," said Abdul Sattar Chishti, the cleric who organized the event.
Chishti said more than 12,000 people listened to the speech by the brother of Mullah Dadullah, the top Taliban commander who was killed in a U.S. operation last month in southern Afghanistan.
He said Dadullah Mansoor vowed to avenge his brother's death and those of others killed while fighting U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.
"The blood of my brother will never go waste. We will never forget his sacrifices, and the role of other martyrs. We will complete Dadullah's mission by expelling Americans and liberating Afghanistan," Chishti quoted Mansoor as saying.
It was not immediately possible to verify Chishti's claims about the rally at Killi Nalai, a village about 45 miles west of Quetta near the Afghan border. Although pro-Taliban elders have held similar rallies in northwestern tribal regions, protests the size of the one organized in Killi Nalai are rare.