Coalition destroys anti-aircraft weapons, 8 Afghan rebels killed

Coalition destroys anti-aircraft weapons, 8 Afghan rebels killedKabul  - US-led coalition forces destroyed two Taliban anti-aircraft weapons in southern Afghanistan, while two separate operations conducted by Afghan and international forces in the same region left eight militants dead, officials said Tuesday.

Acting on intelligence information provided by local villagers, the coalition forces destroyed a ZPU-1 anti-aircraft weapon by "precision strike" in Nad Ali district of Helmand province on Tuesday morning, the US military said in a statement.

Less than 12 hours before, another ZPU-1 anti-aircraft weapon, which was mounted on the back of a pick-up truck and was ready for use against NATO aircraft, was destroyed in the same district of the province, a separate military statement said.

"The militants were seen firing the weapon in the vicinity of the local bazaar, endangering the lives of those nearby," it said, adding, "Use of these weapons by militants in such a populated area shows their total disregard for innocent human lives."

It is the first time that the coalition forces admitted that the militants, who are waging a seven-year-old insurgency in the country, have obtained anti-aircraft weapons.

Taliban militants claimed some two years ago that they had obtained anti-aircraft artillery and since then they have claimed to have downed dozens of NATO and coalition warplanes.

NATO and US-led coalition officials have only admitted a few times that their planes were targeted by rebels in the country, but said they were only using small arms fire or rocket propelled grenades in their attacks.

"In recent months, militants in the area have unsuccessfully attempted to use surface-to-air fire against coalition aircraft," the statement said, adding, "The destruction of these two dangerous weapons systems in such a short period of time is a giant step toward peace and stability in the area."

The statement did not say if there were any casualties on the Taliban side during the strikes.

Wary of sustaining casualties and lacking adequate forces on the ground, NATO forces rely heavily on the use of airpower, which sometimes results in the death of civilians.

Meanwhile, seven Taliban militants including a rebel commander were killed and one more militant was detained by joint Afghan and coalition forces in the southern province of Uruzgan on Tuesday, the Afghan interior ministry said in a statement.

The combined forces seized two machineguns during the operation that took place in Khas Uruzgan district of the province.

Separately, one more insurgent was killed and another was detained by Afghan and coalition forces in Maiwand district of southern Kandahar province, a separate US military statement said Tuesday.

Despite the presence of more than 70,000 international troops deployed from 42 countries in Afghanistan, Taliban-led attacks are on the rise.

The US government and other NATO countries have planned to send more than 25,000 combat soldiers and military advisors in the coming months to the country to contain the insurgency this year.(dpa)