June 20, 2008
Taliban Driven Out of Kandahar Area
By NOOR KHAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan Afghan and NATO troops backed by warplanes drove Taliban militants from villages within striking distance of southern Afghanistan's main city on Thursday, killing 56 of them, Afghan officials said.NATO said the 24-hour operation in Arghandab was a swift success that banished any threat to Kandahar and would help reassure Afghans appalled at the embarrassing mass escape of Taliban prisoners from a city jail last week.
Hundreds of families who fled the lush, orchard-strewn valley, which begins just 10 miles from the city, were told they could safely return, the alliance said.
But the declaration of victory was diminished by alliance officials who implied that Afghan authorities had handed the militants a propaganda coup by exaggerating the threat they posed.
"No large formation of insurgents were met or spotted. Only minor incidents occurred," alliance spokesman Maj. Gen. Carlos Branco said at a news conference. "The insurgents who were there were evidently not in the numbers or with the foothold that they have claimed."
Afghan officials had said some 400 insurgents swept into Arghandab on Monday and seized 10 villages and encouraged residents to leave. The area, with good cover against airstrikes, is considered a possible launch pad for an attack on Kandahar.
The specter of the Islamic militia retaking the city that served as its capital before U.S.-led forces ousted it in 2001 refocused attention on the militants' resurgence in the intervening six years, despite billions of dollars in aid and the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition said one of its soldiers died of gunshot wounds and two others were wounded in neighboring Helmand province on Thursday evening. It didn't give their nationalities.
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