By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Fri Jan 26, 2:17 PM ET
Gen. David Richards said a battalion from the 10th Mountain Division will be dispatched to Kandahar to serve as a reserve force. A battalion can include up to 1,200 troops.
The U.S. forces will help NATO capitalize on gains made in recent offensives against the Taliban, he said, and aid lagging reconstruction efforts.
Richards made the comments during a visit to Kandahar on Friday, NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Nick Grant-Thorold said.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, police said a gunman Friday shot and killed a former Taliban official who supervised the destruction of two towering 1,500-year-old Buddha statues, carved in the side of a cliff, during the rule of the fundamentalist militia.
Maulavi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi was killed on his way to Friday prayers, said Zulmai Khan, Kabul's deputy police chief.
Mohammadi served as the Taliban's governor of Bamiyan province when the statues were shattered with dynamite and artillery in March 2001, and was elected in 2005 to represent the northern province of Samangan in Afghanistan's parliament. He had said he could not be held responsible for the destruction of the world-famous landmarks, which the Taliban considered idolatrous and anti-Muslim.
Remnants of the Taliban have regrouped and rearmed since their rout in late 2001.
Southern Afghanistan is the focus of a Taliban-led insurgency which last year alone killed some 4,000 people, mostly militants, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press from Afghan, NATO and U.S. officials. The violence threatens to undermine a costly five-year effort to stabilize the country.
There are about 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the most since the war began in October 2001. About half serve with NATO, which has been slowly taking on more responsibilities.
NATO's 34,460-strong force remains about 20 percent short of the troop levels pledged by contributing nations, and NATO commanders have complained in recent months of a shortfall in specialist troops and equipment. Troops from some nations, including Germany, France and Spain, impose restrictions that prevent the deployment of their troops in Afghanistan's south and east.
A NATO spokeswoman in Kabul expressed confidence that the organization's forces would be bolstered. "We are optimistic that other nations will follow suit and provide additional troops for the mission," said Lt. Col. Angela Billings.
Thursday's airstrike in another southern province destroyed a Taliban command post, killing a senior militant leader, the alliance said Friday.
An undisclosed number of the militant's deputies were also killed in the airstrike in Musa Qala district of Helmand province, a NATO statement said. It did not name the leader.
The alliance has claimed a string of military successes against Taliban leaders _ including the killing last month of a top lieutenant of the militia's fugitive chief, Mullah Omar _ after a year of bloody fighting.
The airstrike occurred outside the town of Musa Qala, where the government _ with the support of British troops _ agreed to turn over security responsibilities to local leaders. The deal prevents NATO-led troops from entering the town.
Before the deal, the town was a center of fierce clashes between British troops and resurgent Taliban militants. NATO said the airstrike "was outside of the area of the agreement" and didn't violate it.
In other violence reported Friday:
_Police said a suicide bomber killed himself and injured three others, including a policeman, at the office of a U.S.-funded aid group in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
_Ten suspected Taliban militants and a policeman died in a gunfight Thursday in Paktika province near the Pakistan border, a provincial government spokesman said.
_Unidentified gunmen killed two policemen and seriously wounded a civilian in Kandahar city, on Friday, and two gunmen on a motorbike fatally shot a senior police officer in the city Thursday, police said.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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