NATO service member killed in Afghan fighting as possible talks with insurgents draw closer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A coalition service member was killed in fighting in Afghanistan's turbulent south Sunday, one day after President Hamid Karzai moved a step closer to opening talks with Taliban who might be having doubts about the ongoing insurgency.

The death is the sixth among foreign fighters in Afghanistan this month, five of them Americans. The nationality of the person killed was not released in accordance with standard NATO procedure.

The southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar have seen some of the heaviest fighting between insurgents and coalition forces seeking to uproot the Taliban from their long-held strongholds.

A dozen Taliban, including a veteran commander known as Mullah Abdul Aziz, were killed in fighting with Afghan and coalition forces on Friday and Saturday in Helmand's Sangin district, according to provincial government spokesman Daood Ahmadi.

In Uruzgan province just to the north, a Taliban explosive expert, Rahmidullah, was killed on Saturday in Chora district when the roadside bomb he was planting exploded prematurely, according to Chora district chief Mohammad Daood Zaheer.

With the conflict entering its ninth year, Karzai is hoping talks with weary insurgents could help divide the Taliban between hardcore members unwilling to compromise and those who might consider abandoning the insurgency.

Karzai said Saturday he would soon name the members of the High Peace Council, whose formation was approved in June at a national peace conference in Kabul. A statement released by his office said the move marks a "significant step toward peace talks."

The statement said members will include former Taliban, jihadi leaders, leading figures in Afghan society and women, but gave no other details. They will be prepared to negotiate with insurgents who renounce violence, honor the Afghan constitution, and sever ties with terrorist networks.

The Taliban have so far rejected peace talks while foreign troops remain in the country. Talks held in Kabul and the Maldives with an insurgent group led by ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar produced no breakthrough.

Though some observers have expressed concern about cutting any sort of deal with insurgents, foreign governments working to stabilize the Afghan government and economy have welcomed the move, especially given U.S. plans to begin withdrawing some of its forces next July.

"We warmly welcome today's announcement," the British Foreign Office said of Karzai's move. "We will not bring about a more secure Afghanistan by military means alone ... We have always said that a political process is needed to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end."

Karzai's announcement was given added poignancy by comments from the outgoing deputy commander of NATO forces in the country that commanders promised too much when they predicted quick success taking the key Taliban-held town of Marjah last winter.

While British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker now sees signs of a turnaround in the turbulent area, he said the military will be more restrained in forecasting success in the future.


Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.