KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan targeting a group of insurgents near the Pakistani border killed at least 12 militants Friday, the international military coalition said.
Pakistani intelligence and Afghan officials said Mullah Dadullah, the self-proclaimed leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Pakistan's Bajur tribal area was killed, although they offered conflicting reports on the exact location of the strike. NATO could not confirm that a senior militant had been killed.
Coalition spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack said the attack took place late Friday afternoon in Kunar province near the Pakistan border, killing 12 militants.
Conflicting reports out of the rugged and remote regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border are common shortly after an attack.
Kunar provincial official Aslam Gul Mujahid said the airstrike killed 20 people, including Dadullah. Pakistani intelligence officials said Dadullah and 19 others were killed, but they said the airstrike took place in Pakistan's Bajur region, just across the border from Kunar.
The Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said the strike occurred after a cross-border attack by Pakistani Taliban militants who came from Afghanistan.
Jahangir Azam Khattak, a local Pakistani government official, said dozens of militants attacked a Pakistani post manned by anti-Taliban militiamen in the Salarzai area of Bajur. He said six militants were killed and four tribesmen were wounded.
Two Pakistani militiamen also were killed, local tribesmen said on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety.
The Pakistani intelligence officials said the militiamen and army soldiers fought the militants for hours but eventually repelled the attack.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack on the outpost in a telephone call to The Associated Press.
It was unclear whether Pakistani and coalition officials coordinated the strike or whether NATO fired on the militants after noticing activity on the border.
Pakistan has criticized Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces for not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks by Taliban militants against targets inside Pakistan.
The U.S. and Afghanistan have long criticized Pakistan for its failure to prevent militants from carrying out attacks in the opposite direction.
Also in the east, authorities said Friday that insurgents kidnapped three Afghan soldiers and another man from a bus in eastern Afghanistan and killed all four.
Militants stopped the bus as it was traveling in Paktia province's Ahmad Khil district and forced the four men off the vehicle Thursday, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found lying on a road later in the day.
Three of the men were off-duty soldiers who were traveling to see their families, and the fourth victim's identity was unclear, Zaman said.
The Taliban and their allies frequently kill Afghan police and soldiers to counter the plan to strengthen national security forces. They are due to take over main responsibility for fighting militants after international combat troops leave in 2014.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six civilians were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb as they traveled in the southern province of Kandahar, police said.
The civilians were riding on a motorcycle-drawn cart when it hit the bomb Thursday in the town of Spin Boldak, provincial police chief Abdul Razaq said.
Roadside bombs are a favorite Taliban weapon to target international and Afghan forces, but the explosives often kill ordinary Afghans instead.
A U.N. report says 1,145 civilians were killed during the first half of the year, 80 percent of them by militants. Insurgent-placed homemade bombs continued to be the biggest killer of civilians, accounting for 29 percent of all noncombatant deaths during the first six months of 2012.
Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.