British troops launch anti-Taliban op in Helmand
British and Afghan troops Friday launched a military operation to secure a transport route in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, one of the most volatile theatres of the nine-year war.
The operation began in Sayedebad town in Nad Ali, a district bordering Marjah, where US Marines in February launched one of the biggest operations of the nearly nine-year war.
Britain's defence ministry said Operation Tor Shezada, or "black prince", would improve security in Marjah by securing a transportation route between the two areas that would "increase freedom of movement for locals".
The offensive involved the 1st Battalion, The Duke Of Lancaster's Regiment, the statement said, without giving further operational details.
It described Sayedebad as a town of 6,000 residents just north of Marjah.
"The operation is currently ongoing and reports back from the commanders on the ground say it is progressing according to plan," Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, was quoted as saying.
Similar to the aims of the Marjah offensive, Tor Shezada is aimed at driving Taliban from the area so that government control can be re-established, to be followed by development projects such as schools, clinics and markets, the statement said.
NATO and the United States have close to 150,000 troops in the country, with 30,000 deployed in the Taliban's southern heartland in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
Britain has around 10,000 troops in Helmand and a recent reorganisation of southern deployments has seen up to 20,000 US troops, mostly Marines, move into the province, taking over some regions from the British.
Marjah was considered a strategic goal as it had long been controlled by insurgents and drug traffickers, who used the region as a production and transportation route.
The operation there began on February 13, amid expectations that the insurgents and criminal gangs would easily be routed, but they planted a wide area with bombs that killed both soldiers and civilians and impeded development efforts.
© 2010 AFP