International Herald Tribune – June 14, 2006
Coalition and Afghan forces killed 26 suspected militants Wednesday in fighting in the eastern mountains, while in southern Afghanistan, more than 11,000 troops prepared for their biggest offensive since the fall of the Taliban five years ago.
Suspected Taliban militants attacked a coalition logistics patrol in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, killing one American soldier and wounding two others, the U.S. military said.
About 100 British troops were quickly air-dropped in to support the patrol, and coalition fire from the air killed or wounded 12 militants in the area, said a coalition spokesman, Major Quentin Innis. Another coalition soldier died in combat in the eastern Kunar region.
Coalition and Afghan forces killed 26 suspected Taliban militants in the eastern mountains near the Pakistani border, said the Paktika provincial governor, Akram Khelwak. Helicopter gunships and artillery fire supported troops on the ground, Khelwak said. One Afghan police officer was wounded.
The major offensive starting Thursday involves 11,000 U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan troops. The push, which aims to squeeze Taliban fighters in four volatile provinces, will focus on southern Uruzgan and northeastern Helmand, where the military says most of the forces are based.
Dubbed Operation Mountain Thrust, the offensive comes amid Afghan and coalition efforts to curb the fiercest Taliban-led violence since the hard-line Islamic government was toppled for harboring Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This is not just about killing or capturing extremists," a U.S. spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, told reporters in Kabul as he announced the operation.
"We are going to go into these areas, take out the security threat and establish conditions where government forces, government institutions, humanitarian organizations can move into these areas and begin the real work that needs to be done," he said.
The force of more than 11,000 troops is the largest deployed in Afghanistan for one operation since the 2001 invasion. Previous offensives have involved several thousand soldiers.
U.S. troops built walls of sand and guard outposts on Wednesday around the small forward operating base that will support the operation.
Major General Benjamin Freakley, the U.S. operational commander in Afghanistan, had earlier told The Associated Press that coalition and Afghan troops would attack "Taliban enemy sanctuary or safe haven areas" in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.
"They'll be in one area, they'll move out of that area, they'll conduct an attack in another area, then move back to a safe haven," he said last week in an interview at Bagram, the U.S. military headquarters north of Kabul.
"This is our approach to put simultaneous pressure on the enemy's networks, to cause their leaders to make mistakes, and to attack those leaders," Freakley said ahead of the operation.
The coalition began attacking Taliban command and control and support networks in mid-May. According to U.S. military and Afghan figures, about 550 people, mostly militants, have been killed since then in the fiercest fighting since the Taliban's ouster. At least nine coalition troops have been killed in combat during the same time.
In the battle in Helmand Province, up to 200 Taliban rebels attacked Musa Qala before fleeing.
Thursday is to mark what the military calls the start of anti-Taliban operations lasting through the summer. The offensive includes about 2,300 U.S. conventional and special forces, 3,300 British troops, 2,200 Canadians, about 3,500 Afghan soldiers and air support.
Some American forces will rotate out once the operation finishes at the end of the summer, while the British and Canadians will remain.
The offensive, which the military has been planning for 18 months, coincides with a surge in militant attacks in the southern and eastern provinces near the Pakistani border, where Afghan authorities have little or no presence
Last updated 17/06/2006