NATO Enters Afghan Drug Region

NATO Enters Afghan Drug Region
March 12th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: NATO Enters Afghan Drug Region

NATO Enters Afghan Drug Region
USA Today
March 12, 2007
Pg. 6

Push aims to cut Taliban funding source
By Paul Wiseman, USA Today
KABUL, Afghanistan Thousands of NATO troops have moved into Afghanistan's biggest opium-growing region to repel an expected springtime counterattack by a resurgent Taliban.
The offensive in Helmand province seeks to cut off drug money that is a major source of funding for the Islamic rebel militia. Analysts say the NATO force will be challenged by comparatively low troop levels and its inability to chase Taliban fighters as they slip in and out of neighboring Pakistan.
"The Taliban is based in Pakistan," says James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan. "No Afghan-based operation can do it lasting damage. The best we can do is set them back on their heels."
About 4,500 NATO troops including soldiers from the USA, Canada and Great Britain pushed into northern Helmand province last week. One thousand troops from the Afghan national army joined them, fanning out to secure sensitive targets before mountain snows melt and allow rebel forces greater movement.
"We're pre-empting the Taliban's so-called spring offensive," says Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Dave Marsh, a NATO spokesman.
NATO said Sunday night that two British soldiers have been killed in combat.
A NATO priority is to create a 6-mile security buffer around the Kajaki hydroelectric dam. Taliban fighters have repeatedly fired guns and rockets at dam workers, preventing the delivery of a turbine engine needed to get the plant running at full capacity. As a result, 1.7 million people across southern Afghanistan do not have reliable power.
The troops will try to win over tribal elders by convincing them their communities will get roads, schools, clinics and other projects once the Taliban threat is gone. U.S. Army Col. Tom Collins said Sunday that 190 local aid projects, including bridges, immunization clinics and sanitation systems, "are on hold because of extremist activity in the area."
Marsh said NATO troops have made a painstaking effort to avoid causing civilian casualties. They called off an attack Thursday when Taliban fighters fled into a residential area.
Helmand province is the world's biggest producer of opium. According to the United Nations, Taliban fighters protect poppy farmers from Afghan eradication efforts in return for money, generating tens of millions of dollars for the insurgency every year.
NATO expects the Taliban will not let one of its bases of power slip away without a fight. As the offensive began last week, the Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Qassim, told the Associated Press that the insurgents could call on 4,000 fighters in northern Helmand and 4,000 to 5,000 elsewhere in the province.
A top Taliban military commander, Mullah Dadullah, claimed in an Al-Jazeera TV interview last month that a spring offensive was "imminent." He said fighters were hidden in tunnels and elsewhere in preparation for the assault.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair pleaded with NATO nations to send more troops to Afghanistan at a European Union summit last week, but he came up empty-handed. Several countries restrict their troops in Afghanistan from operating in certain combat situations.
"What is taken from the Taliban is often lost because it can't be held long enough to bring in reconstruction," says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of Taliban. "There has been and remains a persistent shortage of (Afghan and NATO) troops to occupy the area that is seized."

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