U.S. Marines and Afghan Troops Launch Attack on Taliban-Held Town

American and Afghan troops launched an attack on Marja, a Taliban-held town in southern Helmand Province, The Associated Press reported. In this attack, commanders say they will do something they have never done before: bring in an Afghan government and police force behind them.

American and British troops will stay on to support them. Marja is intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation, based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in the prelude to President Obama’s decision in December to increase the number of American troops here to nearly 100,000.

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Army launches ground offensive on Taliban stronghold

AFP – Pakistani ground troops backed by warplanes launched a major operation against Taliban in South Waziristan where they were locked in clashes with well-armed fighters, officials said Saturday.

The mountain district is part of the tribal belt on the Afghan border that US officials call the most dangerous place in the world and a stronghold for Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack.

Aircraft bombed Taliban bases as troops advanced north, west and east out of garrisons ahead of a long-planned final ground assault that had been expected to encounter heavy resistance on terrain well suited to the guerrillas.

Pakistan vowed to root out militants branded a threat to sovereignty after a spike in a two-year Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked campaign of attacks cementing Pakistan’s position on the frontline of the US-led “war on terror”.

Long-distance artillery pounded rebel positions as the vanguard of troops fought heavy clashes in Sharwangi and Spinkai Raghzai, a local administration official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They are using heavy weapons” against troops, he told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. A military official confirmed that troops had run into resistance.

Four soldiers were wounded during clashes as troops thrust north towards the Mehsud stronghold of Makeen, east towards Kotkai, Spinkai Raghzai, and west towards Kunigaram, Saam and Baddar, administration officials said.

Remote-controlled bomb attacks also killed three soldiers — two in North Waziristan and one in South Waziristan, said security officials.

A senior military official told AFP that the initial objective was to establish footholds, but that three divisions of the military, paramilitary and police would be mobilised, eventually numbering up to 60,000 troops.

“The operation has been launched this morning. Forces are moving inside Mehsud territory,” he told AFP.

A formal announcement on the start of the operation was expected by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, security officials said.

There are 10,000 to 12,000 fighters from the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) movement in South Waziristan and up to 25,000 across Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt with a history of fierce independence, experts estimate.

“It will be a very swift operation bearing in mind the weather conditions. Soon there will be a complete change in the weather and maybe snowfall. We will try to complete it before snowfall,” said the military official.

The troop movement was accompanied by an indefinite curfew slapped on parts of South Waziristan from 7:00 am in the district of Wana, the main town in the vast and lawless region, as well as in Shakai and Tiarza, officials said.

Authorities earlier this week registered 90,000 people displaced from South Waziristan since August, fleeing their homes fearing a military onslaught.

“Ground and air forces are moving. The objective is to clear all kinds of miscreants from South Waziristan,” Tariq Hayat, a senior government official in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt, told AFP, referring to the militants.

“This has been in the works for a long time. It was only a question of timing and the timing was decided. Troops were in place and they moved in.”

The prime minister chaired crisis talks of main political leaders late Friday to listen to a briefing from army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

“The recent upsurge of terror incidents in the country were condemned and it was agreed that these elements pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state,” said the prime minister’s office.

“In the given circumstances, the national consensus is reaffirmed to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements.”

On Thursday, gunmen blasted into three security buildings in Lahore, in the country’s political heartland, five days after attackers besieged the army headquarters near the capital Islamabad and humiliated the military.

The frequency and sophistication of a string of attacks since October 5 has underscored the weakness of government security forces who Western analysts say lack necessary military hardware and counter-insurgency expertise.

Bodies of troops killed in Afghanistan arrive home

The bodies of six Italian soldiers killed in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops in Afghanistan arrived in Italy Sunday in an emotional homecoming at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

Family of the dead, President Giorgio Napolitano and other political leaders were present as the C-130 military plane carrying the tricolour-draped coffins with their remains touched down at 0730 GMT.

The six coffins were blessed by a priest before a military ceremony that was also attended by Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa and the leaders of the upper and lower houses of parliament, Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini.

Earlier a special flight brought home four Italians who had been wounded in the attack that cost the lives of their comrades.

The four who are not critically wounded were taken by ambulance to a military hospital in Rome.

The Italian government declared days of national mourning for Sunday and Monday, when the six will be given a state funeral in the Italian capital’s Saint Paul Outside the Walls basilica around noon.

The six paratroopers will then be taken to their respective home towns where they will be buried.

On Saturday the six coffins draped in the Italian flag and topped with small cushions carrying the regimental purple berets of the fallen soldiers had been displayed at the main NATO base near Kabul airport where soldiers from 40 countries paid silent homage.

An Italian priest recited prayers after which the national anthem was sung.

Saverio Cucinotta, a spokesman for the contingent based in Kabul, said the six fallen soldiers had arrived in May.

In Thursday’s attack the suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into the paratroopers’ two-vehicle convoy in central Kabul not far from the US embassy on the busy airport road, killing and wounding the soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the attack that Rome  now wants to trim its deployment in Afghanistan but only with agreement from NATO partners.

“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi said.

Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.

The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.

Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — 357 this year according to icasualties.org — and the mounting number of body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.

Emotional farewell for Italian troops slain in Afghanistan

The Italian military Saturday held an emotional religious ceremony in Kabul for six soldiers killed in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops before flying their remains back to Rome.

Six coffins draped in the Italian tricolour and topped with small cushions carrying the regimental purple berets of the fallen soldiers were displayed at the main NATO base near Kabul airport where soldiers from 40 countries paid silent homage.

An Italian priest recited prayers after which the national anthem was sung. The coffins were then transported to a Transall carrier.

Many Italian soldiers were in tears.

“They arrived in May,” said Saverio Cucinotta, a spokesman for the contingent based in Kabul.

The soldiers’ funerals will be held on Monday in Italy, which has announced a day of national mourning.

A suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a two-vehicle convoy of Italian paratroopers in central Kabul not far from the US embassy on the busy airport road on Thursday, killing the soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the attack that Rome  now wants to trim its deployment in Afghanistan but only with agreement from NATO partners.

“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi said.

Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.

The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.

Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — 357 this year according to icasualties.org — and the mounting number body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.

Scores die in Afghan tanker blasts

Scores of people have been killed in Afghanistan  after a NATO air strike targetted two hijacked fuel tankers. The vehicles had been taken by the Taliban but it is unclear how many insurgents and how many civilians died when the trucks exploded.¨

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned any civilian loss of life saying it was unacceptable. NATO has dispatched a senior team to talk to witnesses to find out what happened.

The NATO attack was about 7 kilometres south west of Kunduz city in the far north of Afghanistan
in the early hours local time. Earlier the fuel trucks had been reported hijacked and two of the drivers beheaded by the Taliban. While under Taliban control one tanker had become stuck in a river bed and according to some reports the Taliban were giving some of the fuel away to local families.
Anyone immediately near the tankers was burned beyond recognition by the explosions.