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Fierce resistance to US Afghan offensive

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 16 February 2010

Coalition forces continue to clear the Taliban from strongholds in southern Afghanistan as American and Pakistan officials claim the Taliban's top military commander has been captured.

UK troops involved in Operation Moshtarak in Afghanistan. (Credit: Reuters)

Officials said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was siezed in a joint rade in Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi - a claim immediately denied by the Taliban.

Nato is also claiming more success in their drive to clear Taliban forces from their stronghold in Helmand province: the British commander of Nato forces said UK troops had now secured around three quarters of the area.

Troops leading one of Nato's biggest offensives against Taliban Islamic militants in Afghanistan are facing fierce resistance in the Majar district of Helmand, bogged down by heavy gunfire, snipers and booby traps.

There have been conflicting assessments of what progress Nato has made in Operation Moshtarak, but it seemed clear that the campaign to seize areas before planned troop reductions next year could drag on for weeks.

Coalition forces continued to push ahead in the offensive is the first test of US President Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Hearts and minds
Nato and the Afghan government's credibility rests on limiting civilian casualties during the offensive.

Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said the "hard" work to win hearts and minds during Operation Moshtarak was starting today - as the campaign's civilian death toll continued to grow.

Two US missiles killed 12 civilians by accident on Sunday in an attack on Marjah, a farming area believed to be a breeding ground for insurgents and lucrative opium poppy cultivation, which Western countries say funds the insurgency.

Three Afghan civilians were accidentally killed in separate incidents during the offensive, Nato said.

It also said that a Nato airstrike on suspected insurgents in Kandahar province, not part of the current offensive, had accidentally killed five civilians and wounded two.

More from Channel 4 News
- US Officials: Top Taliban commander captured
- Did captured Taliban leader seek Afghan deal?
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After the operation's opening phase was pronounced otherwise a success, Mr Ainsworth said: "The most important phase of the operations begins now - winning over the hearts and minds of the that they don't tolerate the Taliban in their midst, so that they are not intimidated by them and so the insurgency cannot re-establish itself in the area.

"That's the hard bit, and while the operations have gone extremely well, the difficult bit will be the months ahead as we try to secure and retain control of the area and influence of the people."

So far Moshtarak has claimed the life of one British soldier since the operation started on Saturday - Lance Sergeant Dave Greenhalgh, 25, from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. Although three other servicemen have been killed elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Rifleman Mark Marshall, 29, of 6 Rifles, a Police Community Support Officer, died on Sunday in Sangin, Helmand province.

A British soldier also died on Sunday in small arms fire in the Musa Qala area, with another serviceman killed yesterday near Sangin while dealing with a roadside bomb.

The deaths bring the total number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 261.

Capture 'significant'
Peter Galbraith, the former deputy head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, called the capture of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as "very significant" and not just because of his importance in the Taliban.

"What is much more significant is that this was done in cooperation with Pakistan," he told Channel 4 News. "The Taliban leaders have had refuge in Pakistan since 2001 and the Pakistani's have clearly, the intelligence services have know where they are.

"Now they have turned over the number two leader. It's a sign that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies are really going to cooperate with the Americans.

"It's a sign of things to come."

On suggestions that Baradar was easy to reach because he was living relatively openly in Pakistan, Galbraith said: "The issue isn't where they are and can you track them down, the issue is whether Pakistan was prepared to turn them over."

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