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NATO soldier, 4 Afghan civilians killed as joint raids kill and capture Taliban commanders
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) ' A NATO service member died Friday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, while allied and Afghan forces killed three senior Taliban figures and captured 11 fighters and sympathizers, the alliance said.
Also Friday, a roadside bomb killed four civilians and wounded one in the Tirin Kot district of Uruzgan province, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Kabul, the Interior Ministry said.
The continuing bloodshed comes despite tentative efforts by the Obama administration and other governments to establish a peace process with the Taliban in order to help end the 10-year war. A senior administration official has told The Associated Press that Washington plans to continue a series of secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Europe and the Persian Gulf region next year.
President Hamid Karzai said this week that his government would accept the Taliban opening a liaison office in Turkey, the Gulf state of Qatar or Saudi Arabia for the purpose of holding peace talks.
A NATO statement said an operation earlier this week in Bakwah district in Farah province resulted in the killing of a senior Taliban leader and two of his commanders, as well as a "number of additional insurgents."
Early on Friday, NATO and Afghan troops captured 11 Taliban fighters or sympathizers who provided logistical support and weapons to insurgents in five separate operations across the country, it said.
Nighttime kill-and-capture raids, in which a number of civilians have died, have become a flashpoint for anger over foreign meddling in Afghanistan. Karzai has demanded that foreign troops stop breaking into homes.
Friday's death brings the December toll for NATO troops killed in Afghanistan to 26, while the year's toll so far is 542. The yearly total is considerably lower than for 2010, when more than 700 troops died. But the numbers of wounded have remained consistently high, dipping only slightly from last year's total of more than 5,000 service members.
This year marked the high point of the international military presence in Afghanistan with more than 140,000 troops on the ground. Those numbers have started shrinking in recent weeks and are due to fall to less than 100,000 by the end of next year, as the U.S.-led NATO force prepares to end its combat role in 2014.
Faced with an overwhelming superiority in numbers and firepower by the allied and Afghan government forces, the Taliban have largely avoided direct combat. Instead, they have relied mainly on roadside bombs and small ambushes to harass and inflict losses on the security forces.
Meanwhile, a NATO helicopter made an emergency landing Friday in northern Afghanistan, after having mechanical problems. A statement said there was no evidence of enemy ground fire. The crew was unharmed and the chopper was brought back to a coalition base without incident.
The coalition relies heavily on helicopters to avoid using roads that are frequently mined by the insurgents.
The Taliban have few dedicated anti-air weapons, but they have destroyed or damaged dozens of aircraft using automatic rifles and other infantry weapons. In August, the guerrillas shot down a U.S. Chinook transport, killing 30 U.S. special operation troops, a translator and seven Afghan commandos.
Associated Press reporter Massieh Neshad contributed to this report.
Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich