NATO forces captured two key insurgent leaders in Afghanistan, while a service member was killed in a deadly bombing that raised to three the number of coalition troops killed since the new year began, the multinational alliance said Sunday.
The NATO fatalities -- all in the Taliban's traditional southern stronghold -- opened 2011 on a grim note for the international coalition. One of the two service members killed Saturday was identified as British by that country's defense ministry.
NATO officials say they are making significant progress in the war but also note that the gains are reversible. Insurgents are using Pakistan as a base for some of their operations, and the government of President Hamid Karzai is widely seen by many Afghans and international observers as so far unable to offer key services to a population struggling for a sense of normalcy after years of war.
The coalition, however, has stepped up efforts to quell the insurgency -- issuing daily announcements of Taliban leaders or their aides captured or killed by NATO and Afghan troops. The efforts are as much aimed at undercutting the insurgency as they are at forcing the Taliban to consider the option of peace -- an effort promoted by Karzai but which has yet to yield any tangible results.
As those efforts proceed, NATO presses ahead with its military operations.
The coalition said a senior Taliban leader who was directly involved in a Dec. 18 suicide car bombing in the southern city of Kandahar was captured Saturday. That attack, which targeted a district chief, killed two passers-by and wounded at least nine others. The coalition did not provide other details about the Taliban leader.
In Khost province along the Pakistan border in the east, NATO said it had arrested an insurgent leader in the feared Haqqani network -- al-Qaida-linked militants who operate out of Pakistan and launch attacks in eastern Afghanistan. That coalition said the operative was responsible for coordinating attacks against coalition forces.
Saturday, NATO announced the arrest of another Haqqani network leader in the same province.