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Page last updated at 17:48 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Afghan police deployed in Helmand warzone

Afghan police in Camp Bastion wait to depart for Marjah on 19 February 2010
Nato says the police deployment is part of the consolidation process

Hundreds of Afghan police officers have been deployed in areas captured by Nato forces fighting a major offensive against the Taliban, officials say.

They have been sent to the Helmand province area of Marjah, to hold ground gained in Operation Moshtarak.

The British military says Taliban resistance to the offensive has increased, as expected.

Meanwhile, the Taliban denied Nato claims that militants were using human shields, and were low on ammunition.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi told BBC Pashto that insurgents in Marjah had been able to get ammunition from captured Nato weapons.

We expected they would up the level of resistance, and that's happened
Maj Gen Gordon Messenger

He said the Taliban insurgents involved would not use human shields, because they were related to the local residents.

Up to 400 policemen have been dispatched to Marjah, and Nato said the officers would aim to hold key road junctions and canal crossings.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge says the aim is also to have the local Afghan authorities lead the way in establishing schools and clinics in the area once security allows.

Nato said one service member died on Friday in a small-arms fire attack, a day after six others - including two British soldiers - were killed.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Afghanistan says US Marines and Afghan troops are facing tough resistance from Taliban fighters in Marjah.

On Friday morning, helicopters dropped about two dozen American soldiers into an area of Marjah where sniper fire was concentrated.

UK commander Maj Gen Gordon Messenger told a briefing at the Foreign Office in London: "We expected after the enemy had time to catch its breath, they would up the level of resistance, and that's happened."

More than 15,000 Afghan and Nato troops, mostly American and British, are involved in Moshtarak - "Together" in Dari - which was launched last Saturday.

Nato has said it could take up to 30 days to clear Marjah of insurgents and bombs.

More than 1,200 families have fled Marjah for the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Meanwhile, Nato is still investigating an air strike which killed seven Afghan policemen in the Kunduz province on Thursday.

The officers were mistakenly hit after a joint Nato-Afghan patrol was ambushed by insurgents, officials said.



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