- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — Hundreds of Afghan and coalition soldiers reclaimed one southern town from Islamic Taliban insurgents without a struggle yesterday and were planning to recapture another, an Afghan official said.

The troops descended on Naway-i-Barakzayi, taking back the town after Taliban fighters fled, said Amir Mohammed Akhunzada, the deputy governor of the restless Helmand province. Insurgents burned a police compound, a health clinic and a school before leaving.

“The Afghan flag has been raised back over the compound,” Mr. Akhunzada said.

The troops were planning to move onto Garmser, a town of several thousand that was captured by militants Sunday, he said.

U.S.-led forces declared earlier yesterday that the towns would be taken back in “decisive operations.”

Afghan officials said a small group of police had been holed up in a concrete compound in Garmser for 16 days before being defeated by scores of Taliban fighters, including some who apparently had come from Pakistan.

Large numbers of militants chased police from Naway-i-Barakzayi after a brief clash the next day, officials said.

An official with the International Organization for Migration said about 4,000 Afghans have fled fighting between the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement, and coalition forces in southern Helmand province in recent days.

Taliban militants long have operated freely in their former strongholds in the southern provinces, but their ability to capture towns highlighted the weakness of Afghanistan’s police forces in remote areas and the challenge faced by international forces in restoring order in the country.

More than 10,000 U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan soldiers are waging an anti-Taliban offensive across southern Afghanistan. About 4,000 British troops, part of an expansion of NATO forces into the region, are deploying to Helmand to take control at the end of the month from U.S. forces. They have figured prominently in fierce fighting there in recent weeks.

Afghanistan’s recent violence has been the deadliest since the Taliban’s 2001 ouster, with more than 800 people, mainly insurgents, killed since May, according to an Associated Press tally based on coalition and Afghan figures.

The U.S. military said its most recent offensive has “seriously disrupted” the Taliban network in southern Afghanistan, particularly in the northern districts of Helmand.

Taliban insurgents killed two Afghan policemen yesterday in an execution-style shooting and wounded another in southeastern Ghazni province, police said.

The military also said a homemade bomb exploded accidentally Sunday in southeastern Afghanistan, killing one militant and wounding three.

The blast occurred in Khost province as a group of militants was working on the bomb inside the house of an insurgent leader, killing him and wounding three, the military said.

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