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More troops to tackle Taliban in Afghanistan

The US-led coalition is unleashing more than 11,000 troops to attack militants in the southern mountains of Afghanistan.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2006 13:50 IST

The US-led coalition is unleashing more than 11,000 troops to attack militants in the southern mountains of Afghanistan, the biggest offensive since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The push starting Thursday by US, British, Canadian and Afghan troops aims to squeeze Taliban fighters in four volatile provinces.

It will focus on southern Uruzgan and northeastern Helmand, where the military says most of the forces are massed.

The offensive comes amid Afghan and coalition efforts to curb the fiercest Taliban-led violence since the hard-line Islamic government was toppled for harbouring Osama bin Laden following the Sept 11 attacks on the United States.

The force of more than 11,000 troops is by far the largest deployed in Afghanistan for one operation since the 2001 invasion.

Previous offensives in the country have involved several thousand soldiers.

Maj Gen Benjamin C Freakley, US operational commander in Afghanistan, said coalition and Afghan troops would attack

"Taliban enemy sanctuary or safe haven areas" in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.

"Right now ... 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 US 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.

The offensive, called Operation Mountain Thrust, began May 15 with attacks on Taliban command and control and support networks. Mid-May marked a sharp increase in firefights between militants and coalition forces.

According to the US military and Afghan figures, about 550 people, mostly militants, have been killed since mid-May in the fiercest fighting since the ouster of the Taliban.

The fighting included up to 200 Taliban rebels attacking the southern Helmand provincial town of Musa Qala before fleeing from hundreds of coalition and Afghan forces.