Saturday, March 31, 2007

Afghan army scores a victory in the Helmand district

Taliban flee Afghan-led Nato offensive

By Tom Coghlan in Nad Ali, Helmand

Afghan army forces and police have now purged the Nad Ali district of Helmand of 400 Taliban fighters, following a series of chaotic battles.

Allied commanders estimated 70 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting, while many others fled or gave up their weapons.

The operation, which began last week during the Persian new year celebrations of Nawruz, involved 400 Afghan security personnel, the biggest Afghan-led sweep yet in the Nato offensive in Helmand.

Crucially, it was also backed by local militias, whose commanders had sworn to remove the Taliban from their land.

The Afghan army soldiers patrolling through the fields of Nad Ali also boast new helmets, flak jackets and weapons - the first signs of a $2 billion US aid package designed to turn a ragtag force with an acute desertion problem into an army that would allow Western troops to begin pulling out. Another $6.2 billion is promised to the corrupt and widely mistrusted Afghan police force.

However, a senior provincial leader warned that the militia "must be controlled". "These are all Sher Mohammed Akhundzada's men," he explained.

Akhundzada was provincial governor of Helmand until British pressure caused him to be removed in December. British counter-narcotics officials are certain he was a key figure in the province's drugs trade.

h/t Afghanistan Watch

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