Anti-Taliban ops claim high toll in Afghanistan



KABUL, Sharif Khoram - As Afghans await results from a fraud-tainted election, major military operations and continued terrorist attacks reflected on Sunday the challenge faced by the next president and Western powers.
In operations mostly concentrated in the south and the east of the country, where the Taliban presence is heaviest, Afghan security forces, backed by international troops, claimed success against an increasingly virulent enemy.



Anti-Taliban ops claim high toll in Afghanistan
However gunmen on Sunday shot an election official in the southern city of Kandahar, scene of a massive bombing last week that killed more than 40 people.
A spokesman for the Independent Election Commission said the IEC's Kandahar operations manager, Sharaf-u-Din, was injured when men on a motorbike shot him in front of his house.
The IEC has been releasing the results of the August 20 election piecemeal, with latest returns announced on Saturday showing President Hamid Karzai ahead with 46.3 percent against 31.4 percent for his nearest rival Abdullah Abdullah.
With votes from 35 percent of polling stations announced and the next tranche due on Monday, Karzai appears to be edging far enough ahead of Abdullah to justify his early claims of victory.
Karzai can avoid a second round if he secures more than 50 percent of the vote from August 20.
Western allies have been dismayed at the extent of vote-rigging complaints, but statements by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a Saturday visit to Afghanistan indicate firm commitment to fighting the insurgency.
Brown pledged to speed up the training of Afghan security forces to battle the insurgency, which will allow an eventual draw down of international troops.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the European Union presidency, stressed Western concerns about the election's legitimacy in a blog entry as he headed to Afghanistan Sunday for talks with Karzai.
"Now it is important that the election result that is coming forth is seen as somewhat legitimate in Afghanistan itself and that it can thereby provide a basis for political stability in the coming year at least," Bildt wrote.
Late Saturday in eastern Khost province, bodies littered the ground after a huge joint operation in the Spera district in which paratroopers dropped into battle from helicopters, police said.
Provincial police chief Abdul Qayoum Bakizoi said one Afghan soldier was killed in the operation that left 35 Taliban fighters dead.
In neighbouring Paktika province, which also borders Pakistan's tribal region, Afghan and NATO troops destroyed a bunker complex used by the Haqqani network to store arms and shelter foreign fighters, officials said Sunday.
The troops were backed by helicopters in a battle on Friday that lasted 24 hours and resulted in the deaths of "a large number of enemy militants," the defence ministry and NATO said in a joint statement.
In the operation, which took place in an isolated mountain region of Urgun district, the joint force under NATO command "engaged small arms fire from hostile militants", it said.
"The force killed a large number of hostile militants and recovered multiple anti-aircraft artillery pieces, two heavy machine guns, two light machine guns, several assault rifles,... ammunition and communications gear.
"The force destroyed the bunker complex and all enemy weaponry in place," it said.
The Haqqani network is a powerful group based in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt closely linked to Al-Qaeda and known for its ruthless and sophisticated attacks, including an assassination attempt on Karzai in 2008.
The Afghan interior ministry and deputy police chief of Kandahar province said seven civilians, including a child, were killed and another nine injured when their cars hit concealed roadside bombs on Saturday and Sunday.
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Monday, August 31st 2009
Sharif Khoram
           


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