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British troops' new Afghanistan offensive

By Jonathan Rugman

Updated on 04 February 2010

British troops are moving into new areas of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, ahead of another offensive against the Taliban. Jonathan Rugman reports.

A British soldier in Afghanistan (picture: Getty Images)

The Ministry of Defence has revealed the latest operation is codenamed Operation Moshtarak, which means "together" in the Afghan Pashtun language.

Lieutenant General Nick Parker, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said British troops would clear areas of Taliban fighters, areas which have not been cleared before.

Speaking in Kabul, General Parker asid: "We are fixing the enemy with a beady eye. We are going to take him on. All the signs at the moment are that the enemy intends to fight us."

The Ministry of Defence says soldiers from the Grenadiers battlegroup, Royal Welch and the Coldstream Guards have mounted a "show of strength" in Helmand in the last 36 hours, as well as briefing Afghan elders in the Nad-i Ali area, north west of the town of Lashkar Gar.

Though for operational reasons, the start of the offensive will not be made public until it has begun.

MoD spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger said: "Clearance operations are by their very nature high risk. We can't discount casualties."

There have been six British casualties since mid-January, all of them soldiers on foot patrol, blown up by improvised explosive devices or IEDs.

General Parker said the critical part of the operation was not clearing Taliban fighters, but demonstrating that coalition forces could hold new ground over a period of between 30 and 90 days, in partnership with Afghan soldiers and police.

The MoD says there will be more Afghan involvement in "moshtarak" than in any previous operation.

General Parker added: "This is a very important year. I believe this is going to be a successful year.

"There is a real sense of expectation. By December 2010 I am very confident we are going to be able to demonstrate the approach is successful and is bringing stability to a country which desperately needs it."

He said he would expect a "much lower level of violence" in Helmand by this December and that the coalition philosophy had changed.

He said: "Our philosophy now is to protect the population, to minimise casualties, and for us to detach the insurgents."

However, he said everyone had to accept that "some of the highly committed fighters will go across the border" to Pakistan, further south.

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