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Operation takes hold of Taliban strongholds

By Katie Razzall

Updated on 13 February 2010

With air strikes and thousands of troops on the ground the American-led Operation Moshtarak has already taken control of some of the remaining Taliban strongholds in Helmand. Katie Razzall reports.

Op Moshtarak (Credit: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010)

One thousand British forces are currently involved in Afghanistan and one of them was killed this morning.

The challenge will be to safely hold on to the areas they take and in a special extended report tonight we detail how British forces are keeping the Taliban out.

Nato said tonight Operation Moshtarak is the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and it is making good progress.

Fifteen thousand US, British and Afghan troops, began the much trailed Operation Moshtarak before dawn, launching an assault on densely-populated Taliban strongholds in central Helmand province. Commanders talk of "key objectives" having been met.

But tonight it has been revealed a British soldier from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards has been killed in the operation.

US marines pick their way through the outskirts of Marjah in southern Afghanistan. Operation Moshtarak's focus was to link up parts of central Helmand not held by Nato forces.

Commanders say key objectives include securing population centres and have been achieved.

Major General Gordon Messenger said: "This was about clearing those insurgents out of those areas, but critically about staying behind in enough strength to demonstrate we are there to stay."

British troops loaded into helicopters before dawn, unsure how much of a fight the Taliban would mount. In fact, Taliban fighters appeared to have melted into the population or temporarily left - only a few are reported killed.

This afternoon, however, the Ministry of Defence announced that a British soldier from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards died this morning.

His Jackal armoured vehicle caught in an explosion in Nad-e'Ali. His family have been told. For the operation to succeed, local Afghans must come on board.

Strict rules meant aircraft weapons were limited, with no civilian casualties reported. Hospitals and schools will be provided over the next few days as part of the offensive to win over the population.

This was said to be a complex operation involving both air and ground manoeuvre, as part of the operation to win over local people, there were strict instructions to minimize the use of weapons fired from aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence says it knows of no civilian casualties.

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