NATO targets Taliban in southern Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – NATO-led troops launched an offensive against Taliban militants in a southern Afghan province where hundreds of militant fighters have massed in recent months. One NATO soldier was killed yesterday in combat in the south.

     The operation, which will eventually involve 4,500 NATO troops and 1,000 Afghan soldiers, was launched Monday at the request of the Afghan government and will focus on the Helmand province, Col. Tom Collins, the spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said yesterday.

     The offensive “is focused on improving security in areas where Taliban extremists, narco-traffickers and foreign terrorists are currently operating,” Collins said. “Once the security situation is improved, we will begin short- and long-term reconstruction projects.”

     Some 1,500 U.S. troops will also take part in the operation, dubbed Achilles, which is NATO’s largest offensive in the country. But it will involve only half the number of soldiers who fought in a U.S. offensive in the same region just nine months ago, when roughly 11,000 U.S.-led troops attacked fighters in northern Helmand province during Operation Mountain Thrust.

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