Nato airstrike kills senior Taliban leaders
By Tom Coghlan in Bermal, Paktika Province
Last Updated: 2:29am BST
Nato is reported to have killed at least two senior Taliban leaders in an airstrike north of Helmand as they were watching a public execution.
The bombing took place in the northern district of Baghran on Thursday, a district entirely controlled by the Taliban.
The Taliban's commander for southern Afghanistan, Mansoor Dadullah, was among those targeted, according to unconfirmed reports.
The Afghan Defence Ministry said that the airstrike took place as Taliban leaders gathered to watch the public hanging of several alleged government spies.
Dadullah replaced his older brother Mullah Dadullah Akhund after he was killed by the Special Boat Service (SBS) in Helmand on May 17th.
The younger Dadullah was interviewed by Channel 4 last week promising a wave of kidnaps of foreigners in the province. He threatened to have them beheaded by child executioners.
The Afghan defence ministry claimed that intelligence reports indicated the presence of Mansoor Dadullah at the targeted meeting. The senior Taliban commander for Helmand, Mullah Rahim, was also reported killed.
Doctors in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah reported that 20 people were admitted to the main hospital from Baghran district, ranging in age from eight to 50 years old, while Kandahar hospital also admitted 12 men.
Nasibullah, one of the injured, said the bomb hit a crowded market killing dozens of civilians and that no Taliban were in the area.
One military source, who did not wish to be named denied allegations of civilian casualties.
"We are 100 per cent clear that this was entirely Taliban. Those in hospital are fighting age males. This is the Taliban trying to cover the fact that they got caught out."
A statement put out by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan last night said that it had targeted two "notorious Taliban commanders": "During a sizable meeting of senior Taliban commanders, coalition forces employed precision-guided munitions on their location after ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area."
Nato has systematically targeted the Taliban leadership with airstrikes for the past year and claims to have seriously depleted the Taliban's command and control structure. According to figures collated by Western diplomats in Kabul, around 45 middle and high level Taliban commanders in Helmand have been killed to date.