Wednesday, August 12, 2009

US Troops Enter Afghanistan Resistance Stronghold

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
21:06 Mecca time, 18:06 GMT

US troops enter Taliban stronghold

US, Nato and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country

US troops backed by fighter jets have entered a strategic Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan, to gain control of the area before next week's presidential elections.

The Associated Press said the troops met heavy resistance as they fought to seize control of the mountains surrounding Dahaneh in Helmand province on Wednesday.

US troops hope to restore control of the town so that residents can take part in the country's second presidential election since the Taliban were forced from power in 2001.

The elections are crucial for Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where more than 90,000 foreign troops are fighting the Taliban.

The US army said they had captured several suspects in Wednesday's offensive and seized about 30kg of opium.

Casualty figures have not been reported due to security restrictions.

Attacks on security forces have increased as Afghans gear up for a presidential election scheduled for August 20.

However, the attacks have come mainly in the south where Taliban fighters have their strongest presence.

New offensive

The new offensive, named Eastern Resolve 2, aims to gain control of strategic areas within the southern valley, where the Taliban are solidly entrenched.

By occupying Dahaneh, US forces hope to isolate the Taliban in woods and mountains, away from civilian centres.

Captain Zachary Martin, the US army commander leading the assault, said: "I think this has the potential to be a watershed".

He quoted by the Associated Press said the goal is to cut off the Taliban from a major rear base, and reclaim the area's main market district.

It is hoped this would have a ripple effect through neighbouring villages, making civilians more willing to co-operate with Nato forces.

"In the long term, it could have tremendous effects for the entire province," Martin said.

'Proportional response'

Dahaneh serves as a main trading route through northern parts of Helmand, which produces 60 per cent of the world's opium.

A combined force of 500 US and Afghan troops took part in Wednesday's attack.

Compound-by-compound searches were also conducted by Afghan forces that accompanied the Americans.

Martin said the US forces had devised tactics to minimise civilian casualties in the densely populated area.

He said troops would strictly limit the type of weapons they used and would stick to a "proportional response" when under fire.

Thousands of Nato troops are conducting offensives in Helmand an area where roadside bombs are frequently used to attack foreign and Afghan forces.

At least 14 Nato troops, including at least seven Americans, have died in bomb blasts this month.

Source: Agencies

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
22:27 Mecca time, 19:27 GMT

Deaths in Pakistan Taliban attack

The fighting comes one week after a US missile strike in South Waziristan reportedly killed Mehsud

At least 70 people are reported to have been killed and dozens injured in a major battle between Taliban fighters and another tribal group in Pakistan.

The fighting in South Waziristan erupted when fighers loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, attacked the followers of Turkistan Bittani, who allied with the government after defecting the Taliban.

Bittani said that over 1,000 Mehsud fighters took place in the offence.

"It was a very well-organised attack and Taliban fired with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles," a Pakistan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday.

"According to the initial information, 70 people have died and many more are injured while Taliban also destroyed 35 houses," he added.

'Strong and confident'

Most of those who died in the fighting in the Jandola area were from Bittani's fighters.

Bittani told German Press Agency dpa that 100 fighters died in the clashes while "our 40 houses have been destroyed.

"We have pushed them (Taliban) back but exchange of fire still continues," he said.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder said: “If Bittani reports are accurate, it would be indicative of the fact that the Pakistani Taliban are still quite strong enough and confident enough to launch such a big attack."

Another intelligence official said government troops had started to pound Taliban fighters with artillery fire, forcing them to retreat.

"There several vehicles have been hit and their men have also died, but we don't have exact figures," he said.

The fighting comes one week after a US missile strike in South Waziristan reportedly killed Mehsud.

The US and Pakistani officials say they are almost certain last Wednesday's strike killed the Taliban leader, but several Taliban fighters have insisted Mehsud is alive.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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