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Air Raid Kills 15 Insurgents in Afghanistan

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said two Taliban commanders were among those killed in the operation in the western province of Herat, the Associated Press reported.

“During the operation a number of men were discovered handcuffed and imprisoned in appalling conditions in one of the insurgent compounds; they are now receiving medical care,” a NATO statement on the hostages said.

Separately, NATO announced its troops killed a senior Taliban commander, Bismullah Akhund, in the southern province of Helmand. Akhund, who was believed to be a supplier of weapons and explosives for attacks against military targets, was killed on Saturday.

The operations came as concern about deteriorating security in Afghanistan in ratcheting up. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday he wants to send more troops to Afghanistan “sooner rather than later,” because of the accelerating Taliban threat.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have requested some 10,000 more troops, as well as a doubling of the number of armored vehicles they now have to protect troops from roadside explosions. Currently there are 36,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and 150,000 in Iraq.

“It’s a tougher fight; it’s a more complex fight; and (commanders) need more troops to have the long-term impact that we all want to have there,” Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an appearance with Gates on Wednesday.

Last weekend, the security situation created alarm after nine U.S. soldiers were killed in a firefight with insurgents in northeastern Kunar province. The attack was the deadliest for U.S. forces in the country since 2005.

“One need look no further than the well-coordinated attack on Wanat outpost this weekend to see that the enemy has grown bolder, more sophisticated and diverse,” Mullen said.

U.S. troops pulled out of the newly established remote outpost Wednesday. NATO downplayed the significance of the move, but it will likely be taken as a victory for insurgents in the area.

Gates and Mullen also voiced the need for pressure on militants residing on the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistani border, using the area as a safe haven from which to plan attacks against coalition troops.

Support for NATO forces has been weakened by a series of incidents causing civilian casualties. Provincial officials said Tuesday that nine civilians were killed in foreign airstrikes in western Farah province, reported Reuters. Tribal elders in Herat province said Thursday dozens of civilians have been killed in U.S. bombings, according to the BBC.

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday visited and offered condolences to families in Nangahar province after more than 50 people from a wedding party reportedly died in a U.S. bomb strike.

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