'Successful' start to fresh assault on Taliban

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A fresh assault on the Taliban was launched by British forces in southern Afghanistan today.

Operation Tor Shezada, a bid to squeeze insurgents out of central Helmand Province, got off to a "successful" start in the early hours, military chiefs said.

The assault, involving UK troops working with the Afghan Army, is a small operation continuing the momentum gathered by Operation Mostarak earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence added.

British forces are being led by 1st Battalion, The Duke Of Lancaster's Regiment, in the operation.

Although significantly smaller than previous operations in this area, the operation will push insurgent fighters further from the population centres successfully cleared by previous elements of Moshtarak.

Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "During the early hours of today, under the cover of darkness, the joint Isaf and Afghan Operation Tor Shezada launched successfully.

"The operation is currently ongoing and reports back from the commanders on the ground say it is progressing according to plan.

"Operation Tor Shezada will continue the momentum generated by Operation Moshtarak earlier this year. Its aims are very much supported by local Afghans living in and around the area of Sayedebad. They are keen that insurgents be removed so that they can live, work and travel there safely."

Troops are partnering Afghan forces from 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, to clear insurgents from Sayedebad to the south of Nad-e Ali, in parallel to similar operations by the United States Marine Corps in Northern Marjah, the MoD said. Tor Shezada translates as black prince in English.

The operation will focus on removing the Taliban in the area.

Lt Col Carr-Smith added: "Our intent is such that this activity will increase the distance between the population and remaining insurgents - it will further dislocate insurgents and deny them a base from which to attack the Nad-e Ali and Marjah areas, making the local population safer and reducing the threat to Isaf and ANSF troops.

"In time, the operation will enable the Afghan government to begin development projects in the area, including the planned refurbishment of Sayedebad school, health clinic and bazaar."

Sayedebad sits between Nad-e Ali and Marjah in central Helmand, with a small community of around 6,000 Afghans, mostly from Pashtun Ishaqzai and Hazara backgrounds.

The Trikh Zabur canal runs to the south of the area, with a crossing point which allows movement between Nad-e Ali and Marjah.

Improved security around this important crossing point will increase freedom of movement for locals.

Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment Battlegroup, said: "We have scored major successes in the north and centre of the district, driving out the insurgents from the major population areas, and providing security to the Afghan people. Now we need to make sure that security is extended to every resident of Nad-e Ali."

The Afghan government will begin stabilisation activities as soon as conditions allow, including the refurbishment of Sayedebad school and health clinic.

The British-run Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand will support this activity with projects of its own, including "cash for work" programmes which employ locals to develop their own communities.