Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Taliban flee battle using children as shields
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters used children as human shields to flee heavy fighting this week during an operation by foreign and Afghan forces to clear rebels from around a key hydrolectric dam, NATO said on Wednesday. The Taliban have used human shields before, but never children, local residents say. The fighting occurred during Operation Kryptonite on Monday, an offensive to clear insurgents from the Kajaki Dam area in southern Helmand province to allow repairs to its power plants and the installation of extra capacity. "During this action Taliban extremists resorted to the use of human shields. Specifically, using local Afghan children to cover as they escaped out of the area," Colonel Tom Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told reporters in Kabul. NATO and foreign forces ran into heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire during the clash, but suffered no casualties, Collins said. The fighting occurred in an area where 700 mainly foreign fighters, including Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks, arrived from Pakistan this week to reinforce Taliban guerrillas targeting the dam, according to local officials. Earlier on Wednesday, NATO said it had killed a Taliban leader in a pre-dawn airstrike between the dam and the nearby town of Musa Qala, to the west, which the rebels have held for 13 days. NATO said there were no civilian casualties, but local tribal leader Haji Sultan said several villagers were killed. Helmand Governor Asadullah Wafa would not comment. The Kajaki dam has seen major fighting in recent weeks between the Taliban and NATO forces, mainly British and Dutch. NATO-led forces have been conducting operations in the area for several months to allow reconstruction on the dam and the power transmission lines to boost output, after fighting halted repair and development work last year. The Taliban cannot destroy the dam, which would also flood a large area of the Helmand Valley, but its tactics are aimed at making it too unsafe for work to go ahead. On Tuesday, two Afghan army officers and a police officer were killed in a joint attack with NATO forces on a bomb-making operation in southern Uruzgan province, just to the north of Musa Qala and Kajaki. Ten suspected insurgents were captured in the operation, NATO said in a statement.