Afghan forces battled militants in a remote region near the Pakistan border for a sixth day Friday, and officials were trying to confirm reports that a key Pakistani Taliban leader was killed in the fighting.
The combat in eastern Afghanistan came as the U.S. military suffered its 1,000th death in the nearly 9-year-old Afghan war, according to an Associated Press count.
Hundreds of militants have been trying since Sunday to seize control of the Barg-e-Matal district of Nuristan province along the Pakistani border, provincial officials said.
Villagers who took part in the fighting said they had killed Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah along with six of his fighters during a strong insurgent attack Wednesday, said Gen. Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, commander for Afghan border police in eastern Afghanistan.
Officials said Friday they still had no confirmation that Fazlullah was dead.
Fazlullah is a Pakistani Taliban leader who spearheaded the takeover of Pakistan's Swat Valley three years ago, gaining prominence as the "Radio Mullah" for his vehemently anti-Western sermons on local radio. The former mountain resort area fell under Taliban control until Pakistani forces drove them out last year.
Pakistani Taliban leaders say Fazlullah was in Nuristan but they believe he is still alive.
In Swat, Fazlullah imposed hard-line rule including banning music, dancing, television sets, computers and CDs. He strongly opposed education for females and claimed polio vaccines were a conspiracy by Jews and Christians to weaken Muslims.
The grim milestone of the 1,000th U.S. military death was reached when NATO reported a service member was killed in the south. A NATO statement did not identify the victim's name or nationality, but U.S. spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the service member was American.
The Associated Press bases its tally on U.S. Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan.
The latest death was reported just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend in the United States when Americans honor their dead in all the nation's wars.
The NATO statement gave no details of the bombing Friday, nor did it specify where the attack occurred. U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are gearing up for a major operation in the south in a bid to shore up government control of Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban's former headquarters.
NATO announced separately Friday that Afghan and international troops acting on intelligence information found and destroyed two bomb-making and weapons storage facilities this week in Kandahar province, and battled with militants that tried to defend them.
A cache found at one facility, in the Panjwai district, included high explosives, mortar rounds, roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and automatic rifles, the NATO statement said. At the other, mines, roadside bombs and a stockpile of materials and equipment for making more were found. The exact location was not disclosed.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and other dignitaries on Friday officially launched the construction of a rail link between northern Afghanistan and neighboring Uzbekistan. The 50-mile (75-kilometer) line from the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to Termez in Uzbekistan would eventually carry millions of tons of goods between the two countries, officials said.
Transport routes from Central Asia are among key supply lines for trade in Afghanistan _ and for U.S. military operations. Taliban militants have sought to disrupt and control transport routes all over the country.
Associated Press writers Robert H. Reid and Rohan Sullivan in Kabul contributed to this report.