The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan says the international community has underestimated the resurgence of the Taleban, partly because the war in Iraq diverted attention and resources.

Lieutenant-General David Richards told BBC Thursday that the international community "took their eye off this ball and a vacuum was allowed to develop" in Afghanistan.

The British general said the war in Iraq absorbed people's interest and resources for a while. But he said he is optimistic the insurgency in Afghanistan can be defeated.

Afghanistan in recent months has suffered the worst violence since a U.S.-led attack ousted the Taleban government in December 2001, in part for failing to hand over Osama bin Laden.

Fighting Thursday left 12 suspected Taleban militants dead in southern Nawzad district. A coalition soldier was also killed by a landmine in the same province.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.