Taliban leader caught in a burqa

Nato forces seize commander disguised as a woman while Blair calls for more troops.

    The commander was trying to escape
    from the Panjwayi area [EPA]

    He was trying to escape from the Panjwayi area 35 km west of the city of Kandahar.

    New offensive

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    The capture came on the first day of a huge Nato offensive, Operation Achilles, involving around 4,500 foreign forces backed by 1,000 Afghan troops.

    "Yesterday's security crackdown in Panjwayi is an example of the
    ultimate goal of Operation Achilles," Tom van Loon, the Dutch commander of ISAF operations in the south said.

    Meanwhile, US-led coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan said
    they captured a suspected al-Qaeda improvised explosive device expert
    and five other suspected terrorists.

    They were detained in an assault on Wednesday morning by coalition
    and Afghan forces on a compound near Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province.

    Four suspected Taliban fighters became Operation Achilles’ first casualties when they were killed in the Kajaki district of Helmand province on Tuesday.

    Nato corrected an earlier statement that said they were killed at the weekend.

    More troops required

    Meanwhile Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has once again urged fellow Nato members to provide more troops in Afghanistan and said the matter would be discussed at this week's European Council meeting.

    "We have got to press for the additional battle group from elsewhere, we're continuing to do that," Blair told parliament. "I want more to be done by other Nato countries. This will be part of the discussion informally at the European summit," he said.

    European Union leaders meet on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

    Britain announced last month it would send an extra 1,400 troops to Afghanistan because most Nato allies have refused to send more soldiers, or agree to deploy existing units to combat the Taliban in its southern and eastern strongholds.

    British forces there will increase from 5,500 to about 7,700 this year.

    Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Wednesday the Taliban said it had kidnapped an Italian journalist, three days after an Italian newspaper lost touch with a reporter in south Afghanistan.
    A Taliban spokesman said the group was holding a man who described himself as a Briton working for the daily La Repubblica, the same paper that raised concern over its reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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