Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Afghan, coalition troops reclaim two towns in the south

AP , KABUL

Afghan and coalition soldiers reclaimed the second of two southern towns yesterday that had been overrun in recent days by the Taliban, Afghan and US officials said.

Hundreds of ground forces battled Taliban fighters before entering the Helmand provincial town of Garmser, which had been captured by insurgents on Sunday, said General Rahmatullah Roufi, the Afghan army commander in the country's south.

"Our troops launched an attack on Garmser and thank God we captured it," Roufi said.

He declined to provide details.

The operation in Garmser followed a similar offensive on Tuesday to root out Taliban militants from Naway-i-Barakzayi, about 30km to the north. The southern violence has forced thousands of residents to flee their homes, aid officials said.

US spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Fitzpatrick said local and coalition forces "skirmished" with Taliban fighters outside Garmser but met no resistance once inside.

"The Taliban appears to be bullying there way around some of the smaller towns in remote areas but they have no capability to lay claim to any piece of ground," Fitzpatrick said.

The dilemma for Afghan and coalition forces is countering the Taliban tactic of striking far-flung towns with limited security presence before the insurgents blend back into the desert and local communities whenever a formidable threat appears, only to surface again in another area.

"There are challenges because at the moment there are a finite number of security forces -- Afghan and coalition -- and the real solution is providing Afghan security and that has to be grown," Fitzpatrick said.

Afghanistan has about 60,000 policemen and less than 30,000 soldiers, plus more than 30,000 US-led and NATO forces.

The troops moved on Garmser, a town of more than 50,000 on the Helmand River, where the Taliban on Sunday defeated 40 poorly armed policemen who had been holed up in a concrete compound for more than two weeks.

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