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Troops Purge Taliban Fighters From Afghan District

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2007 – Afghan and coalition troops conducted follow-up operations yesterday in a district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, after week-long clashes with Taliban fighters largely cleared the area of insurgents.

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army’s 205th Corps and coalition forces discovered two insurgent safe houses yesterday in Musa Qalah, in Helmand province, military officials said.

Inside the hideouts, Afghan national security forces found materials for making improvised explosive devices, suicide vests, and clothes belonging to senior-ranking insurgent leaders. Troops also discovered two insurgent sniper positions within one of the compounds.

Later in the operation, Afghan soldiers found an IED factory, additional suicide vests, and more than 2,000 kilograms of opium. An explosive ordnance disposal team disarmed the explosives.

“Today was very successful,” an Afghan National Army commander said. “With the Afghan flag flying ceremoniously in the center of town, we will continue to clear any remaining insurgent positions, stabilize the area, and set conditions for citizens to return to their homes.”

Yesterday’s raid in Musa Qalah came on the heels of a week-long operation to clear the area of insurgents.

Under the leadership of Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Muyaiden on Dec. 12, Afghan soldiers from the 205th Corps raised the Afghan national flag high above the Musa Qalah district center following the largest operation in years to remove insurgents from the Helmand province town.

“These insurgent leaders have placed a stranglehold on Musa Qalah since February, hurting the economy and harming Afghan citizens,” said Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a Combined Joint Task Force 82 spokesman. “The (Afghan national security forces) were able to drive the insurgents out of the area. Now the Afghan people in this district will be free of Taliban tyranny.”

The fighting began Dec. 5 when combined forces conducted a reconnaissance patrol in Now Zad. Taliban insurgents attempted to stop the Afghan-led force by firing from established fighting positions with small arms, rockets and mortars. Combined troops returned small-arms and machine gun fire and called in precision-guided air strikes, quickly putting the Taliban on the defensive.

The Taliban tried to take refuge in local villagers’ homes and use the remaining civilians as protection as coalition forces advanced, but the Afghan civilians resisted.

“The enemy attempted to take advantage of the Pashto code of hospitality by using civilian homes as fighting positions,” Muyaiden said. “The villagers recognized the Taliban were abusing the code and refused. It is a testament to their courage and resolve to help end this conflict quickly.”

Meanwhile, coalition forces identified a prominent Taliban leader providing instructions to a large number of insurgents. The combined force engaged the insurgents by first using small-arms and machine gun fire, then calling in precision munitions, ultimately destroying the enemy.

Military officials said the Taliban are circulating false claims on the Internet about the battle in Musa Qalah. In one report, the Taliban claimed to have killed several coalition forces and captured two abandoned tanks in the Musa Qalah district. They also claimed to have captured large amounts of ammunition and military equipment. Another Internet posting claims coalition forces dropped leaflets telling Afghan civilians to leave their homes or coalition bombs would destroy them.

Belcher denied the claims, saying that leaflets distributed by coalition forces “requested residents of Musa Qalah stay safely in their homes during the operation and (that) the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would defeat the insurgents.” He added that coalition policy is to mitigate damage to civilian property during battles with insurgents.

“(Afghan National Army) forces will continue to focus on providing a safe and secure environment for the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in their effort to foster the rule of law, reconstruction and economic development,” Belcher said, “while the Afghan national flag once again flies over the district center of Musa Qalah.”

(Compiled from Combined Joint Task Force 82 news releases.)

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