KABUL, Afghanistan – Assailants abducted and beheaded an Afghan intelligence service employee and struck one of the agency's vehicles with a remote-controlled bomb in a separate attack, killing six employees and wounding three, officials said Monday.
The attacks came as Afghan officials claimed their forces have trapped up to 200 Taliban in a southern village, possibly including the militia's military commander, Mullah Dadullah.
After a winter lull in the violence, Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led forces have stepped up operations in recent weeks, hoping to pre-empt a feared spring offensive by militants that threatened the already shaky grip of President Hamid Karzai's government.
In the latest militant attack, an intelligence service vehicle driving from eastern Nuristan province was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in neighboring Laghman province, said Laghman police chief Abdul Karim. He said six of the agency's workers were killed and three wounded.
A similar attack killed two intelligence officers, a soldier and a driver in the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, on Sunday.
Also Sunday, an intelligence service employee was kidnapped and beheaded by Taliban at a home in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, said deputy governor Mohammad Kazim Allayar. He said the owner of the house was under investigation.
Meanwhile in southern Uruzgan province, Afghan police and government officials said up to 200 suspected Taliban had been surrounded in the mountain village of Keshay after they had gathered for a meeting and then clashed with Afghan forces on Saturday.
Deputy Interior Minster for Security Abdul Hadi Khalid told a security commission in Parliament on Monday that it was "possible that Mullah Dadullah is among" those who were attending the meeting.
He said Afghan officials had demanded that the Taliban surrender or face military action. He did not mention any deadline for negotiations.
Provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Khan said NATO troops were also involved in the siege, but NATO spokeswoman Lt. Col. Angela Billings said she had no information to support the Afghans' account.
A Taliban spokesman in the south could not immediately be reached for comment.
Killing or capturing Dadullah, a close aide to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and a commander with a reputation for ruthlessness, would be a major victory for the Afghan government and its foreign backers, which have struggled to contain the insurgency.
NATO and the U.S. military have claimed several successes in targeting militant leaders in recent months, most notably a key associate of Omar, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, who was killed in an airstrike in southern Helmand province in December.
Intelligence officers in Kabul, meanwhile, discovered a large car bomb Monday in a battered old taxi parked in a crowded civilian area where NATO and U.S. convoys often drive past.
Authorities found a tank of gasoline, 3 gallons of explosive chemicals, three grenades and a mortar inside the car, an official said on condition of anonymity because of the agency's policy. The bomb was safely removed, the official said, but it wasn't clear if it had been primed to explode.
There have been at least three suicide bomb attacks in Kabul this year, and more than 40 nationwide, mostly in the south and east, a threefold increase on the same period in 2006.
According to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials, in all about 1,000 people, mostly militants, have already died in insurgency-related violence in 2007.