Operation in Taliban hotbed a test for revamped U.S. strategy
Source: Xinhua - By Abdul Haleem
KABUL:- The much-awaited military crackdown against Taliban-held territory, kicked off Thursday, has been pushing deeper into militants' heartland with the involvement of nearly 5,000 Afghan troops and U.S. Marines.
In the latest development, Afghan National Security Forces backed by U.S. -led Coalition Forces eliminated 15 Taliban militants in Helmand on Saturday.
"Afghan National Police (ANP) in a joint operation with army and U.S. -led forces eliminated 15 militants and wounded five more in Nahr-e-Saraj district on Saturday," said a press release of Interior Ministry issued here on Sunday.
Two policemen were killed while five other police including one officer sustained injuries in the incident, it added.
Five out of the 10 districts in Helmand province are said to beheld by militants while the massive U.S.-led operation is going to retake and restore government's authority in all of the "lost area" before the August 20 presidential and Provincial Councils' election.
Khanshin district, according to statement of Defense Ministry, has been recaptured while checkpoints and military bases have also been set up for preventing the militants' comeback.
In a revamped strategy devised by U.S. President Barack Obama on March, Washington announced to send additional 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. military to 68,000.
Nevertheless, the biggest-ever operation since the release of new strategy apparently faces standstill as no key Taliban leader has been reportedly killed or detained so far.
Commander of 205th Afghan Corps in south Afghanistan General Shir Mohammad Zazi in talks with Xinhua confirmed that ongoing operation, dubbed Khanjar or "Strike with Sword", is going on as planed without any resistance.
"In all directions including Khanshin, Garmsir, Nadali, Gereshk and Babaji districts, the troops are fortifying their passions and militants have already evacuated their trenches in these areas," Zazi told Xinhua.
Afghan and U.S. military commanders said they would do their best to avoid harming civilians during the operation in the difficult and unfriendly terrain.
The newly appointed commander of U.S. and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General Stanley McChrystal warned in June that increasing civilian casualties during military operations against insurgents would amplify anti-U.S. resentment.
The U.S. general, according to media reports, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee during his confirmation hearing that, "Our willingness to operate in ways that minimize casualties or damage -even when doing so makes our task more difficult - is essential to our credibility."
Repeated harming non-combatants has tarnished the image of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed mostly by air strikes during operations against Taliban insurgents and the bloodiest one registered so far is perishing 140 people including women and children in Balablock district of western Farah province last May.
The clean-up offensive in Helmand province since ousting Taliban regime in late 2001 would prove challenging as the Taliban insurgents either hidden among locals or evacuated their hideouts to mull a strike back once the troops stationed.
General Zazi admitted that the Taliban, before evacuating their hideouts, planted bulk of mines on the roads and currently Afghan, Britain and American forces are cleaning the roads from the menace.
Mining roads might force the security forces to slow down onslaught and allow Taliban fighters prepare for striking back.
However, U.S. military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier, according to media reports, has stressed that the aim of operation in Helmand province "is not simply to kill Taliban insurgents but to win the support of local population."
In response, Taliban purported spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said the militants all are among people and would resume attack on the security forces when the atmosphere is conducive.
He further claimed that a mine planted by insurgents struck a military vehicle in Nadali district Sunday morning killing four soldiers.
Though the claim could not be independently verified, it has shown the militants' resolution to fight back in the way of hit-and-run guerilla tactic just like what they have always been doing over the past years.