Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 11:28 UK

Concern over Afghan 'withdrawal'

US soldier in Ghazni
Ghazni is seen as a key battleground in the fight against the Taleban

Between 100 to 150 US troops have withdrawn from a strategically important district of the the Afghan province of Ghazni, officials say.

They say that soldiers retreated from the district of Nawa after repeated attacks by Taleban insurgents.

A Taleban spokesman told the BBC that the withdrawal after 10 days of fighting was a "great victory".

Correspondents say that the withdrawal further weakens the authority of the Afghan government in rural areas.

There has been no comment from the US-led coalition on the reported withdrawal and it is not clear whether it is permanent.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says that the withdrawal is significant for two reasons.

Map of Afghanistan

Firstly, it will enable the Taleban to launch more attacks on the main road linking the cities of Kabul and Kandahar. In recent days the road has been increasingly targeted by the militants.

Secondly, our correspondent says that Nawa adjoins the strategically important and volatile Zabul province, which will enable the Taleban to consolidate their positions there.

A government intelligence official - who wished to remain anonymous - told the BBC that the withdrawal sent out the "wrong signals" and would undermine local people's confidence that the government still had a remit in rural areas.

The Taleban have a strong presence in Ghazni - more than 50 schools have recently been shut in the province after they threatened to force their closure.

Southern Afghanistan is the centre of the Taleban-led insurgency.

Correspondents say more than 3,200 people have died in violence countrywide so far this year - of whom 161 have been foreign troops.

Three US-led coalition soldiers were killed by an explosion on Thursday in the south while on foot patrol.

Violence has escalated in Afghanistan in 2008 as the Taleban strives to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and foreign troops through a campaign of guerrilla warfare involving the use of suicide and roadside bomb attacks.

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