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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Marines in high-risk mission
Electing local candidates in the first phase of the loya jirga
Marines want to prevent any disruptions of the loya jirga
British troops are moving in to secure a high-risk section of the Afghan hills that was once an al-Qaeda and Taleban stronghold.

Royal Marines are advancing towards the Pakistani border in south-east Afghanistan to try to seal off possible transit routes that could be used by al-Qaeda fighters trying to re-enter the country from Pakistan.

British troops are moving through areas which are heavily mined in the latest stage of Operation Buzzard.

They are working in and close to civilian populations which are tribally divided, in what is potentially a very dangerous mission.

Part of the aim is to ensure that elements hostile to the West and Afghanistan's new moderate leaders are unable to return to disrupt the loya jirga - a congress of Afghan leaders - set to meet in just over a week to decide the country's new government.

A member of Operation Buzzard and an Afghan boy
Marines have tried to befriend local civilians
First, a small reconnaissance team of Royal Marines was sent into the hills that border Pakistan, followed later by larger numbers in heavily armed vehicles.

The British force has tried to twin its military campaign to secure the region with a psychological push to win over the "hearts and minds" of civilians whose intelligence may be crucial to locating the whereabouts of Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.

All the information so far points to these fighters having disappeared into the mountains and across the border to Pakistan one month ago.

Fragile process

British commanders nonetheless insist that the operation so far has been a success.

They will be judged by the extent to which they manage to keep disruptive forces away from the loya jirga.

The fragile process of deciding who will govern what parts of the tenuous nation has already been condemned by some independent delegates as a carve-up by dominant factions.


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01 Jun 02 | South Asia
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