The British soldier was killed when his commando unit came under fire, the British ministry of defence said.

 

"The Royal Marine was killed when his unit came under fire during a deliberate clearance operation in the Kajaki area," the ministry said.

Operation Achilles

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Local Taliban leaders were defiant in response to the operation.


Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman in Helmand, told Al Jazeera: "We don't care about this operation. What it means is Nato is going to bomb more innocent civilians.

 

"We have 10,000 fighters waiting to meet them. We will defend and fight and inshallah [God willing] we will win." 

 

The combined push, Operation Achilles, was launched at the request of the Afghan government, Isaf said.

 

It would focus on "improving security in areas where Taliban extremists operate, root out drug-traffickers and other elements trying to destabilise the government of Afghanistan," the statement said.

  

Officials have admitted that several districts in northern parts of Helmand province - Afghanistan's top opium-producing area - are out of government control.

 

The offensive is Nato's largest-ever in the country.

 

But it will involve only half the number of soldiers that fought in a US offensive in the same region just nine months ago, when some 11,000 US-led troops attacked fighters in northern Helmand province during Operation Mountain Thrust.

 

"We cannot allow extremists, criminals and Taliban to decide what happens in this country," van Loon, said. "We need to make sure the government of Afghanistan with our support ... secures the area."

 

"Strategically, our goal is to enable the Afghan government to begin the Kajaki project"

Ton van Loon, ISAF

The government has little control over many parts of northern Helmand, and the British troops stationed there fight almost-daily battles with fighters.

 

US intelligence officials say Taliban fighters have flooded into Helmand over the last several months, and there are now more fighters there than any other part of the country.

The Taliban still control the town more than a month after the initial attack. Collins said forces would not move into the village until given approval by the government.

'Long term initiative'

 

British troops have also been battling militants in the nearby district of Kajaki to enable repair work on a hydroelectric damn there, which supplies close to two million Afghans with electricity, officials said.

 

"Strategically, our goal is to enable the Afghan government to begin the Kajaki project," van Loon said.

 

"This long-term initiative is a huge undertaking and the eventual rehabilitation of the Kajaki multipurpose dam and power house will improve the water supply for local communities, rehabilitate irrigation systems for farmlands and provide sufficient electrical power for residents, industries and commerce."

 

Journalist kidnapped

 

Separately on Tuesday, the Taliban said it had "arrested" a Briton working for an Italian newspaper.

 

The group said Danny Kell was a British military spy working for the Italian La Repubblica newspaper.

 

The paper and Italian foreign ministry said one of its correspondents, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, had not been in contact for two days.

 

British, Italian and Afghan authorities said they were investigating.

Source: Agencies