By late Tuesday Afghan and coalition troops had re-taken the town of Naway-i-Barakzayi and expected to re-take the other, Garmser, shortly afterwards, Afghanistan's defense ministry said.

"At 5:30 pm (1300 GMT) we got back control of Naway district," said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, Afghanistan’s defence ministry spokesman. “The operation is still ongoing around the district to totally liberate the area."

"There has also been a big operation ongoing to retake control of Garmser district and we expect to liberate Garmser in the next hour. We will announce the details of casualties later."

"It was a joint operation of Afghan army and police with aerial support from coalition forces," he said.

Taliban offensive

The Taliban, which governed Afghanistan until late 2001, took over the remote and largely lawless Garmser and adjoining Naway-i-Barakzayi districts after attacking from across the nearby Pakistan border.
 
In Garmser the Taliban and their supporters burnt the Afghan flag that was flying at the district headquarters. In its place they hoisted another, apparently that of pro-Taliban Pakistan religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the interior ministry said.

A Taliban spokesman said that these would be the first of a wave of attacks.

"During these operations which will begin today or tomorrow, we'll take most of the districts in southern and south-central Afghanistan," said Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif on Tuesday.

Taliban attacks in Helmand have killed four British soldiers so far

Hanid said the new offensive would include "lots" of suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks against government and coalition targets.

The coalition said that the Taliban may have regrouped but that they can only operate in remote areas that are not fully under government control.

"We know that the enemy is now moving deeper into southern parts of the southern provinces … to pick targets that they think are lightly defended because of a lack of government presence," said Colonel Thomas Collins, a Coalition spokesman.

"The Taliban would love for you to believe that they are seizing these areas in pitched battles. But that's not the case at all. Essentially they're forcing out small groupings of Afghan national police."

In the last few weeks Taliban attacks have become more frequent – especially in the southern province of Helmand where a British-led NATO force is due to take over military operations from the US at the end of the month.

Taliban attacks in Helmand province have killed four British soldiers in the past month.