Afghans, Nato launch offensive in Taliban heartland

Cautious approach as troops try to reclaim ground from militants

Afghans, Nato launch offensive in Taliban heartland

 
A US soldier is evacuated to a helicopter after a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar on Monday. REUTERSOperation ‘Dragon Strike’ began on Saturday with air strikes and ground operations in the Taliban heartland around Kandahar, the Afghan Defence Ministry and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Many of the areas had already seen weeks of fierce fighting as a surge of foreign troops pushed across the region trying to reclaim ground from insurgents, while the government had also been making a push for “hearts and minds”.

The low-key announcement of the offensive — after weeks of fighting in several of the targeted areas, and after it had officially begun — contrasted strongly with the fanfare surrounding an operation in Marjah in neighbouring Helmand province at the start of the year.

Nato forces advertised that push long before it began, and provided almost daily updates on progress. But after claiming the town there was little success in getting a much-vaunted “government in a box” up and running in Marjah.

Taliban also crept back into surrounding areas.

Limited success

Extremely low turnout in the September 18 parliamentary election sealed the impression of limited success in Marjah. Both Afghans and Nato now appear to be taking a more cautious approach.

“Most of our focus is on having a dialogue with people, good governance and development projects. It has been going on for weeks now,” said Zahir Azimi, a defence ministry spokesman.

“This is a small operation," he added, when asked to compare the fighting in the districts of Zhari, Panjwai and Arghandab with the Marjah offensive in February.

The drive comes as civilian and military casualties in Afghanistan have surged to their highest since US-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001.

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