Tens of thousands of Afghan and NATO troops killed or captured 200 insurgents in eastern Afghanistan during two operations targeting the violent Haqqani network blamed for the majority of attacks in Kabul, the U.S.-led coalition said Monday.
At least 20 of the insurgents had ties to the Haqqani group, which is affiliated with al-Qaida and the Taliban, said German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a coalition spokesman in Afghanistan. The roughly 180 others were from the Taliban or other groups, though not all have been identified.
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.
Afghan and coalition forces have made gains in southern Afghanistan in the past two years, routing insurgents from their strongholds. They are now trying to hold that territory in the south while shifting resources to deal with insurgent hotspots in the east.
The Haqqani network is based in Pakistan, but operates primarily in Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces along Afghanistan's eastern border. U.S. and Afghan officials have demanded that Pakistan do more to eliminate militant sanctuaries on its side of the border.
The Haqqanis aim to have maximum control over eastern Afghanistan and access to Kabul from the south, Jacobson said, adding they are "a family clan, a criminal patronage network and a terrorist organization."
"For work on the other side we need help from Pakistan."
Roughly 25,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen and 11,000 coalition troops were involved in the operations, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul. More than 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of explosives, weapons, munitions and computers were seized.
He said more than 400 hours of close-air support and thousands of hours of surveillance missions were flown in support of the operations, which began Oct. 12 and ended Oct. 20. The majority of the operations were conducted in Kabul province, Wardak, Logar and Ghazni provinces south and west of the capital and Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces along the border.
Although the two operations have ended, the coalition is continuing its fight against the Haqqani network. The coalition estimates fewer than 5,000 Haqqani militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a NATO intelligence analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the figure.
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.
While NATO presses ahead with its campaigns, several hundred people including students demonstrated at Kabul University against a strategic security agreement being negotiated by U.S. and Afghan officials. Many Afghans think such an agreement would give American forces a long-term presence in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has said that it is not seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan is negotiating details of the plan, which would govern the American troop presence in the country after the international forces' combat mission ends in 2014.
The protest highlighted a 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 said the international community wants to exploit Afghanistan's mineral wealth and use the country as a springboard to intervention in 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.
"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, 478 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan.
Associated Press writers Tarek El-Tablawy, Amir Shah and Massieh Aryan in Kabul contributed to this report.