Afghan army joins anti-Taliban drive

Afghanistan's new national army backed by US-led forces has launched its first major anti-Taliban combat operation in the southeast of the country, a US military spokesman said on Wednesday.

    About 1000 soldiers are headed to the Zermat valley region

    The offensive, dubbed Operation Warrior Sweep, began on Monday, as six Afghan National Army (ANA) companies numbering about 1000 soldiers headed to the Zermat valley region in the southern Paktia province, close to the Pakistani border.

    "The ANA's mission is to kill, capture and deny sanctuary to anti-coalition fighters and to disrupt anti-coalition activity in the Zermat valley region in support of the Islamic transitional government of Afghanistan," US Colonel Rodney Davis told reporters at the Afghan army's Pul-i-Charki barracks 15 kilometres east of Kabul.

    "The ANA's mission is to kill, capture and deny sanctuary to anti-coalition fighters"

    Rodney Davis

    US Colonel


    He was referring to Taliban remnants, their al-Qaida allies and fighters loyal to the renegade former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who regularly launch attacks on foreign and government targets.


    The Zermat valley region,

    100 kilometres south of Kabul, was the scene of the massive Operation Anaconda assault against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in March last year.


    Coalition forces last month launched two operations against suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the area.


    Force approaches Pakistan border


    Operation Warrior Sweep is intended to disrupt routes used by these anti-coalition forces in the mountainous Afghan-Pakistan border area, and is not a direct response to any recent anti-coalition activity, according to the colonel.

    "The ANA will establish a long-term presence in the Zermat valley region and I'm very pleased to announce that from this point on, the ANA will be a key contributor to Afghanistan's security," the colonel said.


    Davis said the nascent national army now numbered 5000 troops, against a forecast eventual strength of 70,000. The United States is leading efforts to train and rebuild the national force, a task the former commander of US-led coalition forces Lieutenant General Dan McNeill described as a "tough road" due to ingrained ethnic and regional suspicions and tensions.


    Afghan infantry troops were backed by US-led coalition forces but Davis would not disclose further details of the ongoing operation or whether any fighting had occurred.


    Pakistan had been informed of the operation taking place near its border, the colonel said.


    The US-led coalition force of some 11,500 troops continues to hunt Taliban and al-Qaida remnants and undertake reconstruction work throughout Afghanistan. 

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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