KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan and NATO coalition forces killed or captured about 200 insurgents in eastern Afghanistan during two operations targeting the lethal Haqqani network, which has links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, the U.S.-led coalition said Monday.
At least 20 insurgents with ties to the Haqqani group were among those killed or captured in the operations conducted during the past week by Afghan security forces with the support of coalition troops, said German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a coalition spokesman in Afghanistan.
About half of the Haqqani fighters were identified as leaders and the other half were bomb makers or individuals who help militants in various ways, such as distributing weapons and supplies, running safe houses or preparing areas for attack.
"Removal of the midlevel cell leaders with their expertise and leadership has significantly disrupted insurgent operations and degrades the Haqqani network's ability to coordinate and execute future attacks against combined team forces and the people of Afghanistan," Jacobson said.
The joint force also seized more than 400 kilograms of explosives, weapons, munitions and computers.
The two operations have ended, but the coalition is continuing its work to disrupt the Haqqani network, he said.
On Sunday, NATO reported that a heavily armed group of Haqqani fighters was the target of an airstrike in Wuza Jadran district of Paktia province. The coalition said several insurgents were killed in the attack, but did not specify how many.
The Haqqani network is based in Pakistan, but operates primarily in Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces and is blamed for most of the recent high-profile attacks in the Afghan capital.
"Haqqani is not only a terrorist organization, it is a family clan, a criminal patronage network and a terrorist organization," Jacobson said. He said that the Haqqanis aim to have maximum control over eastern Afghanistan and access to Kabul from the south.
"Though their family roots are in Paktika, they are operating on either side of the border. ... Their business is to smuggle drugs, murder and insurgency and their path is extremely bloody."
At the same time as coalition and Afghan forces have stepped up their operations in areas along the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan have urged Pakistan to act against the militants on its side of the border. U.S. officials recently visited Islamabad and Kabul to pressure Pakistan to do more to eliminate militant sanctuaries on its territory.
While NATO presses ahead with its campaigns, several hundred people including students demonstrated at Kabul University against a proposed U.S.-Afghan strategic security agreement that many in the country interpret as affording foreign forces long-term bases in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has said that it is not seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. officials are still working on the details of the plan that will govern the American troop presence in the country after the international forces' combat mission ends in 2014.
The protest against the plan highlighted the growing frustration felt by many Afghans toward NATO forces who, they argue, have brought little in the way of security or development to the country since the start of the decade-long war that toppled the Taliban. Many of the protesters alleged that the international community wants to exploit Afghanistan's mineral wealth and use the country as a springboard to other nations in the region.
"The fighting is not for bringing peace or stability or security," said 26-year-old university student Sayed Abdullah. "This is only to allow them (NATO forces) to place their feet firmer in our country and then, from here, (they) want to occupy all the central Asian Muslim nations."
The demonstrators, with about 200 to 300 Afghan police looking on warily, hoisted banners that made clear their antipathy for NATO's presence and the proposed agreement.
"We don't want international forces at all. To sit together is the only way to peace," read one. Another said: "Our unity is our strength."
Separately, the coalition reported that a NATO service member died Monday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. No other details were released.
So far this year, 475 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan.
Associated Press writers Tarek El-Tablawy, Amir Shah and Massieh Aryan in Kabul contributed to this report.