Monday, September 27, 2010

US troops begin combat for Kandahar

* General says forces fight Taliban in backyard, allowing them no time to regroup

NEW YORK: The active combat phase of a US operation designed to drive Taliban out of districts around Kandahar has begun, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing American military officials.

Code named Operation Dragon Strike, the push is focusing on clearing the Taliban from three districts to the west and south of the city, the newspaper quoted Brig Gen Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, as having said.

“We expect hard fighting. The aim, he said, would be destroying Taliban fighting positions so they will not have anywhere to hide. The operation, backed by Afghan troops, is the first large-scale combat involving multiple objectives in Kandahar province, where a military offensive was originally expected to begin in June,” it said.

The offensive was downgraded to more of a joint civil-military effort after the military encountered problems in trying to pacify the much smaller city of Marja and because of resistance from Afghan leaders concerned about the possibility of high civilian casualties.

“Winning over Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, is considered crucial to President Obama’s efforts to shift the balance of power in Afghanistan after the militants staged a comeback in recent years,” the newspaper pointed out. General Blotz said the combat phase of Dragon Strike began five or six days ago in Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwye districts, with shaping operations preceding that for several weeks.

He declined to release further details on the new operation, other than to say it involved a large number of troops with air support, and that for the first time in a major operation, more Afghan forces were deployed than the coalition ones. Bismillah Khan, the police chief in Zhari district, said the combat operation began there on Saturday, but he declined to give further details. Afghan and coalition forces are repeatedly hitting the insurgents in their backyard, allowing them no time to regroup, the general said.

No sooner had the first battalion of the US Army arrived here, five of its soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb directed at their convoy. The dead included the first army chaplain to be killed on active duty during the Afghan conflict. app



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