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Airstrike in Afghanistan kills Taliban commander

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HEIDI VOGT and AMIR SHAH | February 16, 2009 09:04 AM EST | AP

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KABUL — A coalition airstrike has killed a powerful Taliban commander who broke a promise to renounce violence after village elders persuaded President Hamid Karzai to free him from prison, officials said Monday.

The Sunday night attack destroyed a building housing Ghulam Dastagir and eight other militants in the village of Darya-ye-Morghab, near the Turkmenistan border, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Dastagir was responsible for a surge in violence in the province in recent months, including a November attack on an Afghan army convoy that killed 13 soldiers, the statement said.

"He was like the shadow governor of Badghis," said Gen. Mohammad Ayub Nizyar, the former police chief of the province.

Dastagir had previously been captured and imprisoned in Herat province, but he was released about four months ago after elders of his home district pleaded with Karzai and high-level officials to let him go, saying he would not return to violence, according to provincial police spokesman Noorhan Nekzad. Karzai issued a decree ordering his release.

"The government trusted the guarantee of the villagers" and released Dastagir, said Badghis Gov. Ashraf Nasery. "Unfortunately, as soon as he was released he rejoined the Taliban."

Sunday's "precision strike" did not destroy any other buildings and nearby structures only had minor external damage, the military statement said.

Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi confirmed the incident, but said more people may have been killed. He said he had reports of up to 12 deaths.

Separately Monday, a service member with NATO forces died "of wounds caused by indirect fire" in eastern Afghanistan, according to a statement by NATO forces. The statement did not give more details or the troop's nationality. The majority of forces in the east are American.

In the south, five people died when a minibus hit a roadside bomb in Uruzgan province. One other person was seriously wounded, said Gulab Khan, the deputy provincial police chief.

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Associated Press Writer Noor Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.