Afghan security forces launch offensive against TalibanBy DPA, IANS
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
KABUL - The Afghan defence ministry said Wednesday its forces have begun a military offensive alongside international troops against the Taliban insurgency.
“Operation Omid kicked off in 2011 and is going to be conducted mostly in the violent southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan,” said General Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman.
The Afghan National Army was to lead the operation, with participation by US and NATO-led international forces.
Omid, which means hope in the Dari language, was to last for 18 months, and aimed to clear areas of the Taliban insurgency and establish security, Azimi said.
Security forces planned to “hold the ground for local government to work on development projects”, the spokesman said, in an effort to “win the hearts and minds” of the population and “attract their trust” in the state.
The international forces are due to start handing over security responsibility to the national authorities this year, amid plans to expand further the Afghan National Army.
“It is an important year for us because the transition will start this year and our capacity and abilities to fight will increase,” Azimi said.
The ranks of the army, currently about 149,000 strong, are due to swell to about 171,600 by the end of the year.
But observers are concerned that the Afghan National Army and National Police are not yet in a position to ensure their country’s security after the handover, due to be completed by 2014.
More than 810 Afghan soldiers were killed in clashes with the Taliban insurgents last year, which was also the bloodiest so far for foreign troops, with 711 soldiers lost, according to the independent website iCasualties.org.
The gains made during a US-led surge last year in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s traditional stronghold, were “fragile and reversible”, US officials have said.
Following last year’s operation, the Taliban insurgency has flared up in other parts of the country, notably the previously relatively peaceful north and east.