Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Taliban 'step up' Operation Moshtarak resistance

British troops in Afghanistan
Three UK soldiers involved in Operation Moshtarak have now died

The Taliban have stepped up resistance against a major military offensive in Afghanistan, a UK commander has said.

Maj Gen Gordon Messenger said activity had increased in the last few days, but the success of Operation Moshtarak was "in no way" threatened.

The mission involving the UK and its allies aims to clear and secure former Taliban bases at Marjah and Nad Ali.

Two more British soldiers were killed on Thursday, taking the total UK losses in Operation Moshtarak to three.

Maj Gen Messenger said Taliban command structures had been dislocated by the early stages of Operation Moshtarak and that had a continued impact on their enemy.

'Local tip-offs'

He told a briefing at the Foreign Office in London that most resistance came from small groups of militants shooting from far away.

He revealed 27 IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and components had been found in a compound, following tip-offs from local people.

We expected after the enemy had time to catch its breath, they would up the level of resistance, and that's happened
Maj Gen Gordon Messenger

He also said British troops came under fire from a small group of insurgents while carrying out reconnaissance duties on a canal, leading to the arrest of four rebels.

The military leader claimed local people had welcomed the presence of the coalition troops because the Taliban and drug lords had oppressed them.

He said: "The level of resistance has increased as expected. We expected after the enemy had time to catch its breath, they would up the level of resistance, and that's happened.

"There are now more incidents directed against the Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) and Afghan forces than there were, but they are still unco-ordinated."

Maj Gen Messenger and other British officials all emphasised the importance of carrying out sustainable reconstruction after the military operations.

A district stabilisation plan is expected to be announced next week to assure local Afghans that the national government in Kabul would continue to engage with them in the long term.

An Afghan farmer
Maj Gen Messenger said many Afghan families did not require shelter

Local people have signed up for cash-for-work programmes to improve roads, canals and irrigation and about 2,000 families displaced by the fighting have registered for support, Maj Gen Messenger said.

But he added only a handful of those needed shelter as most were staying with relatives.

He said enemy forces were using civilians as "human shields" and denied reports that Marjah town centre had been destroyed by US Marines.

On Thursday, two UK soldiers were killed taking part in Operation Moshtarak, taking the total number of military personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 263.

The first, from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, died in an explosion in the Babaji area of Helmand province.

Death toll

The second, from 1st Battalion Scots Guards, was shot fighting rebels in the Nad Ali area as his cmpany moved to secure the settlement of Gorup-Shesh-Kalay on the main route our of Marjah. The families of both soldiers have been informed.

Operation Moshtarak, which began on Saturday, is the biggest military offensive in Afghanistan since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. It involves 4,000 British troops.

In total, more than 15,000 US, British and Afghan soldiers have embarked on a push to clear Taliban forces parts of the southern province of Helmand.

The first British soldier involved in the offensive to be killed was Lance Sergeant Dave Greenhalgh, 25, from Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

He was serving with 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, and died in an explosion while on vehicle patrol near Lashkar Gah, in Helmand, on Saturday.

Map of Helmand Province and key locations

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Telegraph Thousands of British troops wounded in Afghanistan - 13 hrs ago
CNN Taliban put up stiff resistance - 21 hrs ago
SINA US Marines seize Taliban headquarters, IDs, photos - 24 hrs ago U.S. Marines Seize Taliban HQ in Marjah - 28 hrs ago
MSNBC Marines seize Taliban HQ, IDs, photos - 35 hrs ago

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