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US, Afghan troops launch operation in southern province


Latest update : 2009-08-12

In the run-up to Afghan elections scheduled for August 20, the US and Afghanistan have deployed troops in the troubled Helmand province to prevent Taliban fighters from acting on threats to disrupt the vote.

AFP - US and Afghan troops launched an operation in Afghanistan's troubled south Wednesday, in a fresh bid to safeguard imminent elections overshadowed by Taliban threats and mounting violence.

Operation Eastern Resolve II deployed 400 US troops and 100 Afghan soldiers to a Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan.

In a statement from Camp Leatherneck, in central Helmand, he said the aim of the mission in Naw Zad district was to prevent Taliban fighters from acting on threats to disrupt presidential and provincial council elections next week.

On August 20, 17 million Afghans are due to elect a president for the second time in history, but Taliban threats to block roads to polling booths and widespread fears of suicide attacks have clouded preparations.

"Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces," Nicholson said.

Helmand is one of the world's main poppy-producing regions and a route for Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan to join the insurgency.

US and Nato-led forces have been operating in the province's centre and south in recent months in an effort to push out Taliban forces and secure populated areas of the vast region ahead of the elections.

Thousands of US Marines who have poured into Taliban-controlled regions as part of a sweeping new war strategy under US President Barack Obama aimed at quelling the insurgency have come under intense attack from Taliban forces.

Most deaths are caused by roadside improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that rip through armoured vehicles and soldiers' protective wear.

The bombs are most often directed at security forces, accounting for most of their casualties, which reached a record level last month with 76 dead, but kill more civilians.

Two journalists from the US-based global news agency Associated Press were seriously wounded in an IED attack while on patrol with US troops in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday, said the media group and military.

AP identified the pair as award-winning Spanish photographer Emilio Morenatti, 40, who lost a foot. The other man was videographer Andi Jatmiko, 44, from Indonesia, who suffered leg injuries and two broken ribs.

Like Helmand, Kandahar is one of the main battlefields in the international fight against the Taliban since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said US soldiers travelling with the journalists were also wounded while on an operation to secure areas for the elections.

Defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Azimi told reporters that nine districts remained under Taliban control -- four in Helmand, two in Kandahar province, one in Uruzgan province and two in an unspecified region.

Election officials concede that poor security could see voting suspended in a small proportion of the country's 7,000-odd districts.

Azimi said troops were deploying nationwide in an effort to provide security on polling day amid fears of suicide attacks. Election officials say that 300,000 Afghan forces and foreign troops will be deployed at polling booths.

"Our troops are in the process of being placed at polling stations as part of efforts to provide security for the elections. We are still hoping that more areas will be cleared before election day," Azimi said.

Independent website says 259 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, 149 of them from the United States.

The Taliban fight to win back control since being ousted from power in the 2001 US-led invasion has raised concerns that the threat of violence will keep voters away from the polls and undermine the credibility of the elections.

Five Afghan policemen were killed when a vehicle carrying a bomb disposal team back to Kabul was hit by a roadside bomb, the interior ministry said.

In northern Kunduz, militants attacked a government compound, killing the district police chief and a guard, an official said.

The area is on a new transit route passing through Tajikistan, for supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan.

In the western province of Farah -- which borders Iran, produces poppy and is an insurgency route for funding and supplies -- Afghan forces said they and US Special Forces troops killed six Taliban in an operation on Tuesday night.

Abdul Basir Ghori, spokesman for the western Afghanistan military corps, said the operation, in Bakwa district, claimed a Taliban commander among the dead.

One wounded Taliban was taken into custody, he said, adding there were no casulaties on the allied side.


Date created : 2009-08-12