By NOOR KHAN
The Associated Press
Friday, August 3, 2007; 2:39 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- U.S.-led airstrikes hit a Taliban gathering in volatile southern Afghanistan and killed at least three senior figures of the militant group, government officials said Friday.
Local officials and doctors said dozens of wounded were brought to hospitals, one of them an 8-year-old boy.
The attacks in Helmand province's Baghran district struck militants who had gathered to watch the hanging of two men accused by the Taliban of spying for the government, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman.
The ministry said its intelligence reports indicated three militant leaders, including Taliban commander for Helmand province Mullah Rahim, were among those killed Thursday. The Taliban commander for all of southern Afghanistan, Dadullah Mansoor, was at the scene but his fate was not immediately known, Azimi said.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, denied Rahim was killed.
The U.S.-led coalition would not confirm Azimi's account. But a coalition statement said it carried out a "precision airstrike against two notorious Taliban commanders conducting a leadership meeting in a remote area of the Baghran district."
"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," the statement said. The coalition gave few other details and no word of casualties.
In apparent reference to the same incident, Mohammad Hussein, the provincial police chief, said several Taliban and civilians were killed Thursday in an airstrike in the Shah Ibrahim area of Baghran district.
Villagers had come out from their homes to watch the hanging organized by the Taliban when the bombs fell, he said.
He said 20 wounded people were brought to the hospital in Helmand's capital of Lashkar Gah.
Enayatullah Ghafari, head of the health department for Helmand province, said the youngest victim was an 8-year-old boy and the oldest was a 50-year-old man.
Twelve wounded men were brought to a hospital in the main southern city of Kandahar, said Sharifullah Khan, a doctor there.
Nasibullah, one of the wounded men in Kandahar hospital, said the bombs hit a market. He claimed there were no Taliban there at the time of the attack.
Afghan and foreign troops in the country have repeatedly tried to kill senior militant leadership, while trying to co-opt the low level fighters in their drive to expand government control in the country's south and east.
Dadullah Mansoor succeeded his brother, Mullah Dadullah, as commander of militant operations in southern Afghanistan after Mullah Dadullah was killed in a U.S.-led operation in May.
Mullah Dadullah orchestrated Taliban suicide attacks and beheadings in the region, and Dadullah Mansoor told Al-Jazeera in June he had received a personal message of condolence from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden for the death of his brother.
The airstrikes were about 200 miles away from the area in central Afghanistan where Taliban militants are believed to be holding 21 South Korean hostages. On Friday, the Taliban offered to meet South Korean officials for hostage talks in Afghan government-controlled territory if their safety is guaranteed.
The Taliban abducted 23 South Koreans on July 19 in Ghazni province as they traveled by bus from Kabul to Kandahar. They were part of a Christian church group doing volunteer health work in Afghanistan. The captors have shot and killed two men in the group.