KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Coalition officials lauded Afghan security forces for repelling Taliban militants in fierce fighting, but raised doubts over Afghan claims that a captured man may be a top rebel leader.
A storm of violence over a 24-hour period in southern Afghanistan in the past week left about 120 people dead and dozens of militants detained, according to U.S.-led coalition and Afghan officials.
A fighter captured in a joint Afghan-coalition operation in Kandahar province Wednesday could be the sought-after Mullah Dadullah, said Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi, the head of the Afghan military's southern region, on Friday.
If confirmed, the capture of Dadullah — one of the most trusted followers of Taliban leader Mullah Omar — would be a major coalition victory.
Another Afghan official, who requested anonymity due to policy, also said authorities were "pretty sure" the man, seriously wounded and unconscious in a military hospital, was Dadullah.
Dadullah, who lost a leg fighting for the Taliban during its rise to power in the mid-1990s, is one of the hardline militia's top commanders.
Raufi said a one-legged militant suspected to be Dadullah was captured in a clash Wednesday in the southern province of Kandahar.
But a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, said that after checking with coalition officials it appeared Dadullah had not been detained.
"The best information I have — and I could be wrong — but the best information I have is that it's a 'No,"' he said.
Coalition officials, meanwhile, saluted the Afghan police force that repelled one of the Taliban militants' largest attacks since their ouster from power in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition.
After often disappointing efforts of the U.S.-funded security forces in Iraq, the new national Afghan police and army have gained some stature by facing the latest onslaught in the south, where attacks have been escalating.
On Wednesday and Thursday, 300-400 Taliban attacked police and government headquarters in the small southern town of Musa Qala and killed up to 60 militants and 16 Afghan police, the coalition said Friday.
A coalition military spokesman, Maj. Quentin Innis, said Afghan forces did all the fighting against the militants.
"We see this as them taking control of the situation," he said. "We see it as very empowering on their part, and ... that's what we want, because eventually we're going to leave."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed Thursday that the violence emanated from neighboring Pakistan's mountainous border regions.
On Friday, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri rejected the allegations.