Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Afghan forces retake town

By AMIR SHAH KABUL (AP) - Afghan security forces supported by NATO troops recaptured a town in western Afghanistan on Tuesday that briefly fell to Taliban militants, an official said. About 200 Afghan police and soldiers moved into the remote town of Bakwa in Farah province early Tuesday and faced no resistance, said Gov. Muhajuddin Baluch. He said some NATO troops joined the operation. The Afghan forces were searching the vicinity for the militants, who moved into Bakwa on Monday and briefly held it and then left, taking three seized vehicles with them, he said. It was the second time this month that the government has lost control of a district in the region. Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was killed during combat operations on Monday in the Naray area of eastern Kunar province, the U.S. military said in a brief statement. At least 297 American soldiers have died in and around Afghanistan since U.S. forces invaded in late 2001 to topple the hardline Taliban regime. The name of the latest fatality was being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the statement said. Also on Monday, U.S.-led coalition forces dropped a 910-kilogram bomb on a cave where insurgents retreated after a clash in southern Uruzgan province, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. David Accetta said. He had no details on insurgent casualties. The past year has seen a surge in violence in Afghanistan, and militants are posing an increasing challenge to the weak power of President Hamid Karzai's government. Baluch said authorities had not re-established contact with the police commander who abandoned his post in Bakwa on Monday as the Taliban moved in. Afghan army troops will stay with police in Bakwa for 10 to 15 days to consolidate their control, he said. The police retreat followed Sunday's bombing of a car carrying the province's police chief on his return from destroying opium poppy fields - an eradication campaign opposed by many farmers. The police chief was unharmed, but four other officers in the vehicle were killed and two wounded. Baryalaj Khan, spokesman for the Farah police chief, blamed Taliban militants for the attack, saying they were involved in the drug trade, but gave no evidence to support his claim. Bakwa is about 65 kilometres from Helmand, the hub of Afghanistan's world-leading illicit opium and heroin industry. It was the second town to fall from government hands this month. Taliban militants overran Helmand's town of Musa Qala on Feb. 1, defying a peace deal between the government and elders last year that capped weeks of fighting. The government is negotiating with elders to get them to persuade the militants to leave.

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