South Asia News
Ten Afghans, 80 Taliban killed as Petraeus takes command (Roundup)
Jul 4, 2010, 15:00 GMT
Kabul - Ten Afghan civilians and more than 80 Taliban insurgents were killed in the latest violence in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday as US General David Petraeus formally took command of NATO-led forces in the country.
'We must demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that Afghan and ISAF forces are here to safeguard the Afghan people,' Petraeus said at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters.
'We are in this to win, that is our clear objective,' the new commander of 150,000 US and NATO forces said.
During the ceremony attended by hundreds of NATO and Afghan officials, Petraeus received two flags - one from the US and the other from NATO.
The change of command comes when the insurgents are at their strongest since the ultra-Islamist regime was ousted in late 2001. The NATO-led troops and Taliban militants have intensified their attacks in the recent weeks.
In the latest incident, a total of 63 suspected militants were killed in the Dishu district of the southern province of Helmand, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement Sunday.
The operation, which was conducted by Afghan and US-led troops, began on Friday and continued till Sunday morning, it said.
The combined forces seized more than 16.5 tonnes of drugs from the militants, while 10 drug smugglers and armed insurgents, including foreign fighters, were detained, the statement said.
The joint forces also freed 14 Afghans, who were jailed by Taliban militants on charges of working with the Western-backed Afghan government, it said.
Helmand, which is the main hub of activity for Taliban militants in the region, accounts for more than half of the opium produced in the country. Afghanistan supplies more than 90 per cent of the world's opiate.
A local Taliban commander and his associates were killed by a NATO airstrike in Helmand's Nad Ali district on Saturday, a statement issued by the provincial governor's office on Sunday said.
At least 16 other suspected militants, including a local Taliban commander, were killed in three separate airstrikes in central province of Wardak on Saturday, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.
Eight civilians were killed and five others were injured in two separate roadside bombs in southern provinces of Zabul and Helmand on Sunday, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Two more civilians were killed in similar attacks in northern province Kapisa and western province of Nimruz on Saturday, the statement said.
'We are engaged in a tough fight. After years of war, we have arrived at a critical moment,' Petraeus said at Sunday's event.
'We must demonstrate to the Afghan people, and to the world, that al-Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.'
The four-star general, took over from General Stanley McChrystal, who was dismissed for disparaging remarks about the White House's leadership of the US mission.
The US-led international forces are suffering increasing losses amid growing worries about the failure of the Afghan government to bring corruption under control and face down the Taliban.
Petraeus, 57, made his mark in Iraq, where he successfully led the 2007 surge against militants and laid the groundwork for the US withdrawal of combat troops in August.
Obama and other US officials insist that the change in military leadership would not mean a change in US strategy for Afghanistan.
'My assumption of command represents a change in personnel, not a change in policy or strategy,' Petraeus said Sunday.
'To be sure, I will, as any new commander should, together with ISAF, Afghan, and diplomatic partners, examine our civil-military effort to determine where refinements might be needed,' he added.
There are more than 130,000 NATO and US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. The total number foreign troops is set to peak at 150,000 by August when the extra US soldiers to arrive in the country.
The US military escalation is aimed at turning the tide of nearly nine-year-war in Afghanistan before the drawdown of American forces set to begin by mid 2011.