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British troops thrust into southern Afghanistan
Cat : Afghanistan
Date : 2006-06-19 10:29:25                      Reader : 281

Those are the best tools to fight Taliban. Afghans are fed up with wars where thousands of innocent civilians died in wars, if not millions .


Associated France Press (AFP) 19/6/2006

British troops thrust into southern Afghanistan


by Deborah Haynes

KABUL (AFP) - British troops, backed for the first time by attack helicopters, have pushed deep into rebel territories in southern Afghanistan that have not been under government control for 30 years.

The operation in Helmand province, which British commanders on Sunday hailed as a success so far, is going much faster than expected, with soldiers also using small arms fire and light artillery to tackle Taliban fighters.

Other hurdles, however, such as widespread poverty and a dependence on illegal opium production, will likely take much longer to overcome.

"We have done far more of the mission now than we thought we would do," said Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of the British forces in Afghanistan.

"We are doing it a lot earlier ... we have challenged insecurity in far more places than we anticipated and we have got a force laid down which I am very comfortable with," he told a briefing of British journalists in Kabul.

Britain has been deploying some 3,300 troops to Helmand province, a stronghold of the hardline-Islamic Taliban, to take over from the US military there from the end of July under the umbrella of a NATO-led force.

Butler said the deployment was about 85 percent complete, noting: "I expect to have all the forces in by the 1st July."

Instead of just establishing themselves around the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, the troops have pushed into the mountainous north -- an area that has been out of government control for three decades -- as part of a US-led campaign called Operation Mountain Thrust.

The British military has already set up seven forward operating bases in the lawless terrain, with between 12 to 60 soldiers at each.

"We are probably, where we are, where I thought we would be in about August time in terms of being up in those platoon houses in the north," Butler said.

"From a security tactical point of view, I think we have had success."

In the past couple of weeks, troops have clashed with rebel fighters for the first time since deploying in Helmand -- the birthplace of the Taliban movement -- losing one soldier but purportedly killing dozens of militants.

They also sent Apache attack helicopters to target insurgent positions for the first time.

Asked whether he thought there would be a big offensive against the insurgents in the coming weeks, Butler said: "They may just be adjusting their tactics and techniques because of the pressure that is on them to defeat the coalition forces, but at the moment they are not being successful."

Despite a relatively strong foothold in the province, the British commander said the Taliban was weak, while noting that the level of governance was also very feeble -- a fact the British are keen to rectify.

Poverty rather than violence is a major problem that the British soldiers are encountering in an area that has been deprived of outside help for so long.

In Afghanistan as a whole, one in four children will die before their fifth birthday, while half of the Afghan population lives in poverty.

The ultimate aim of the British mission, under NATO, is to combine three elements of security, development and good governance -- including the building up of Afghanistan’s own security forces -- to create an environment where foreign troops are no longer needed.

To this end, British soldiers are going into villages in northern Helmand to meet community leaders and find out about their security and social needs.

A recent spike in violence, however, with almost daily car bombings and attacks in parts of the country, has generated bad headlines back home in Britain, where some people worry this could be the beginning of another Iraq.

Butler, in contrast, was far more upbeat: "To me it is currently winnable. It won’t be necessarily this year ... but it is certainly winnable and we are optimistic we will make a difference"

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