British troops launch offensive against Taliban

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The Independent Online

British troops are among more than 11,000 Western troops involved in a major offensive against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the largest since 2001.

Operation Mountain Thrust, which began yesterday, is expected to last at least a month. The British military spokesman, Capt Drew Gibson, said that the British force of 3,300 troops based in Helmand was actively involved: "British forces will undertake cordon and search operations as we are doing already," he said. "These involve British troops acting on specific intelligence to search areas where anti-government forces are believed to be operating." He said that UK forces were working in close conjunction with Afghan forces and would also undertake reconstruction work.

The British spokesman said US forces, with more robust rules of engagement than UK troops, were expected to undertake most of the more offensive actions during Mountain Thrust.

TheAmerican spokesman, Col Paul Fitzpatrick, said US commanders hoped to "disrupt the leadership networks" of the Taliban. Another US military spokesman, Col Tom Collins, said: "Mountain Thrust aims to remove extremist elements, bring good governance to the southern provinces and extend the reach of the central government." There were no reports of British casualties yesterday. The Government, meanwhile, announced the deployment of another 130 troops to Afghanistan to provide security at the main US airbase in Kandahar.

The wave of violence that has killed 500 in Afghanistan in the past month continued unabated. A bomb exploded yesterday in a bus carrying Afghan interpreters and cleaners to work at Kandahar airbase, killing 10 and injuring 16. It was the first attack to target local people working at the base and may indicate a widening of the Taliban campaign of intimidation.