Afghan Officials Call Offensive Against Taliban SuccessfulBy Ayaz Gul
19 June 2008

Top officials in Afghanistan say local and NATO-led forces have driven Taliban militants from a troubled southern district, one day after a joint anti-insurgent offensive was launched. But NATO officials say they cannot immediately confirm Afghan claims of killing hundreds militants or if the area is now free of Taliban fighters. Ayaz Gul files from Islamabad.

Canadian soldier with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stands guard in Arghandab district, 19 Jun 2008
NATO and Afghan forces, backed by aircraft, moved into the southern Arghandab district earlier this week, following reports of a Taliban presence in several strategic villages there.

Kandahar Province Governor Assadullah Khalid told reporters the joint offensive has pushed Taliban fighters out of the villages, killing or wounding hundreds of insurgents.

But a Kabul-based spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Brigadier General Carlos Branco, tells VOA the operation is continuing and is progressing well.

The spokesman says that earlier reports suggesting a large presence of Taliban insurgents in the area and claims of destruction, as well as the planting of land mines by the militants, were all unfounded.

"Only small pockets of insurgents were encountered, so only minor incidents occurred and some of them are still going on. These incidents were mainly exchange of small arms fire and skirmishes. And, until now, we have no evidence of destroyed bridges as claimed by the insurgents," said General Branco.

Bronco says the operation is expected to last for few more days. He says NATO and Afghan forces are determined to eliminate the militant threat from the area.

"We know that small groups of Taliban are [in], nearby, several villages in the region. They are still there. But we are conducting operations steadily and methodically so we will be able to clear the area," said General Branco.

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