Tuesday, February 16, 2010

27 Taliban killed in Helmand offensive

KABUL: As the joint Afghan-NATO assault against Taliban bastion in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province entered its third day Monday, more than three-dozen people have been killed and hundreds of families fled home for safer places.

Twenty-seven militants and 12 civilians have been killed and the troops have secured major parts of the restive Marjah and Nad Ali districts, according to officials.

NATO-led troops while pounding militants' hideout fired two rockets on Sunday, which missed the target and hit a house killing 12 civilians.

"Two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launched at insurgents firing upon Afghan and ISAF forces impacted approximately 300 meters off their intended target, killing 12 civilians in Nad Ali district, Helmand province," a press release of NATO-led forces issued Sunday said.

Some 15,000 Afghan and the NATO-led forces including U.S. Marines launched a major offensive dubbed "Moshtarak" which means "together" against Taliban bastion in Marjah district of southern Helmand province before dawn Saturday to restore government's authority there.

Addressing a joint press conference in Helmand's provincial capital Lashkar Gah on Monday, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that the troops had achieved the objectives without major resistance.

Flanked by Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops General Stanly McChrystal, the Afghan Defense Minister also called on Taliban fighters to lay down arm and resume normal life.

Gen. McChrystal, who earlier apologized for tragic loss of innocent life, vowed to avoid harming civilians.

In order to avoid civilian casualties, Interior Minister Atmar stressed that the troops will be in constant contact with the community elders, besides evading heavy weaponry in the battle.

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