NATO launches new Afghan operation

Other News Materials 19 September 2007 17:03 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - NATO forces launched a new military operation Wednesday in Afghanistan's most violent southern province, while the alliance said it was investigating a shipment of weapons intercepted near the border with Iran this month.

About 2,500 Afghan and NATO troops began the operation in the Gereshk region of Helmand province, the site of the fiercest battles this year and the world's largest opium-producing region.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the troops would conduct military "security and stabilization" operations in the upper Gereshk Valley, but provided no other details.

Meanwhile, a NATO spokesman said ISAF was investigating the source of a weapons shipment recently intercepted by troops in Farah province near the Iranian border.

"Although we know that it came from the geographic area of Iran, there is no definitive indication that it came from the Iranian government. We're still evaluating what is contained in that shipment," spokesman Maj. Charles Anthony said.

A Washington Post report Sunday said the shipment seized Sept. 6 was being sent to the Taliban and included armor-piercing bombs similar to those that have been used in roadside bombs against foreign troops in Iraq. NATO previously intercepted two shipments of weapons said to be from Iran in April and May.

NATO's top general in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan McNeill, has said there is no evidence linking the Iranian government to the shipments.

Last month, President Bush said he thinks Iran is playing a destabilizing role in Afghanistan, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said Iran is playing a helpful role in the country.

During a visit to Kabul last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he has "serious doubts" that his country is supplying weapons to Taliban insurgents, and called Afghanistan a "brotherly nation" whose stability is paramount for the region.

Insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan has killed more than 4,300 people this year, mostly militants, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomb attack in the Garmsir district of Helmand left eight Afghan police officers wounded, including three who were in critical condition, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

In other violence, Taliban militants in southern Zasbul province attacked and killed three Afghan security guards protecting a construction project Wednesday in Qalat, said Gulab Shah Alikhail, spokesman for the governor.

A joint operation Tuesday between Afghan forces and the Afghan intelligence service left three militants dead in Wardak province, including a senior member of the militant group Hezb-i Islami, which is led by renegade former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Defense Ministry said. Three insurgents were wounded, and four were arrested in the operation in Nirkh district.

Also, two militants were killed and three arrested in a joint operation by Afghan police and coalition forces Tuesday night in Spin Ghar district of Nangarhar province, the Interior Ministry said.