Kabul: US and Afghan troops have reportedly begun active combat operations last week to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds surrounding the city of Kandahar.
Sixteen Americans have been killed so far, including two killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday.
While defining the current phase for the first time, Brigadier General Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, said that the combat phase had begun five or six days back in the Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwai Districts.
“We expect hard fighting. This is the most significant military operation ongoing in Afghanistan,” The New York Times quoted General Blotz, as saying.
This is reportedly the first large-scale combat operation involving multiple objectives in Kandahar Province, where a military offensive was originally expected to begin in June.
A joint civil-military effort began after the military encountered problems with the Taliban in the city of Marja and feared high civilian casualties in the region.
During the last week of August, at the instigation of Afghan authorities, American troops supported a major push into the Mehlajat area on the southwest edge of Kandahar City, driving the Taliban from that area with few casualties on either side. At the time, military officials said that was the beginning of what would be an increase in active combat around Kandahar, the paper reports.
According to Bismillah Khan, the police chief in the Zhari District, the combat operation there began on Saturday, but he declined to give further details.
Combat operations to secure Kandahar had initially been expected to start in June, but unfolded more slowly than expected as US planners grappled with the complexities of operating in a province that served as the crucible of the Taliban’s emergence in the mid-1990s, with Pakistan’s support, the paper said.