Taliban: Some Hostages To Be Freed

A policeman stands guard as several tons of confiscated opium and other drugs are burnt in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday Aug. 27, 2007. AP Photo/Saurabh Das

The Taliban will free three or four South Korean hostages — likely women — after face-to-face negotiations Tuesday, a senior Taliban commander tells CBS News. The remaining hostages will likely be released in small groups in the coming weeks, according to the commander.

Taliban militants will resume face-to-face talks with South Korean officials on Tuesday on the fate of 19 Korean church volunteers they have held captive since July 19, a Taliban spokesman said Monday. Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the talks — the fourth time the two sides have met — would be held in the central town of Ghazni under the mediation of the International Red Cross, which oversaw the previous negotiations.

The senior Taliban commander tells CBS News that a South Korean delegation of Muslim clerics in Pakistan is welcome to join the talks as a goodwill gesture to Muslims in South Korea.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan accused Taliban militants on Monday of falsely reporting civilian casualties to discredit Afghan and international forces, as 10 insurgents and three NATO soldiers were killed in fresh fighting.

The coalition launched the accusation after Afghan elders alleged that international troops killed up to 18 civilians late Sunday in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold.

Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman, a coalition spokeswoman, said credible intelligence suggested the claims were fabricated as part of a propaganda war.

"The insurgents continue to follow their pattern of falsely reporting civilian casualties," she said.

NATO-led forces, whose operations in Helmand are being supported by U.S.-led coalition troops and aircraft, insisted Sunday that no noncombatants were killed in the fighting. The claims could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area where the clash took place.

Reports of civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces are highly sensitive in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly deplored such deaths, saying they undermine efforts to win the trust of the people.

Insurgent attacks on Afghan and Western troops in Afghanistan are running at their highest level since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 to oust the hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers, who harbored al Qaeda leaders blamed for planning the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

On Monday, a NATO soldier was killed and another was wounded in an insurgent ambush in eastern Afghanistan, a statement from the alliance said.

The soldiers, whose nationality was not disclosed, were in a convoy when insurgents ambushed them using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, the statement said.

On Sunday, unidentified assailants shot and killed another NATO soldier during a foot patrol in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, NATO said in a statement. It did not give the dead soldier's nationality.

Most of the NATO troops in the east are American.

In the Netherlands, defense chief Gen. Dick Berlijn said a Dutch soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The sergeant, whose name was not immediately released, died late Sunday night when an improvised explosive device detonated near the southern town of Deh Rawod.

Afghan police, meanwhile, killed six suspected militants during a one-hour gun battle in Paktika province, which borders Pakistan, late on Sunday, said Ghamia Khan, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He gave no more details.

In the southern Zabul province, Afghan and coalition troops clashed with insurgents in Daychopan district Sunday, killing four suspected Taliban and wounding four others, said Fazel Bari, the Daychopan district chief.

Also Sunday, Afghan and coalition troops destroyed a heroin laboratory after battling Taliban fighters guarding the facility, a separate coalition statement said. The lab in Helmand contained large amounts of opium-processing chemicals as well as weapons, insurgent propaganda and explosive materials, it said.

Afghanistan accounts for 93 percent of the world's heroin supply, and a significant portion of the profits from the $3.1 billion trade are thought to flow to Taliban fighters, who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.

In other developments:

  • Afghan opium poppy cultivation has exploded to a new record high this year, with the multibillion-dollar trade now fueled by Taliban militants and corrupt officials in President Hamid Karzai's government, a U.N. report said Monday. Afghanistan has opium growing on 477,000 acres of land, a 17 percent increase from last year's 408,000 acres, the previous a record, according to an annual survey by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

  • The U.S. military regrets any offense it may have caused by handing out a soccer ball emblazoned with the name of Allah on it as part of a public relations exercise in Afghanistan, a spokesman said Monday. At least one of the balls — dropped by helicopter — carried a small picture of the Saudi Arabian flag. The flag features the Islamic declaration of faith, which contains the words Allah and the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims treat with the utmost respect any printed matter containing verses of the Koran or the name of Allah or his prophet on it. Most would find the idea of kicking a ball emblazoned with those two names as deeply offensive.

    • Lindsay Goldwert

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