The fiercest military offensive on the Taliban since the conflict in Afghanistan began has so far gone “as well as it could have done”, British Army chiefs said today.
More than 1,000 British troops engaging in the long-awaited launch of Operation Moshtarak secured their “key objectives” in the early hours, Major General Gordon Messenger, the chief of the defence staff’s strategic communications officer, said.
He said “low numbers” of insurgents were killed during the attacks – but that efforts by British troops in the Chah-e-Anjir Triangle had been successful.
Maj Gen Messenger said: “There’s no complacency – everyone understands this is the easy bit. The hard bit is what comes next in reassuring the public.
“This is all about winning the allegiance of the population. The allegiance is not won in a day it must be won over time. It cannot be forced.”
He was unable to confirm whether any British soldiers had died during the operation.
British forces efforts were focused on gaining control of targets in the surrounding Nad-e-Ali district.
At a press briefing at the UK Ministry of Defence’s London headquarters, Maj Gen Messenger added: “In terms of insurgents there have been some killed but relatively low numbers.”
“This is not and cannot be seen as a campaign of us versus them.
“It is absolutely about removing their ability to operate in areas.”
At least 20 insurgents were killed in the Helmand operation, according to General Sher Mohammad Zazai, the commander of Afghan forces in the region.
Troops had recovered Kalashnikov rifles, heavy machine guns and grenades from 11 insurgents captured so far, he added.
Nato said three US soldiers were killed in a bombing elsewhere in southern Afghanistan.
Major General Nick Carter, Nato commander of forces in southern Afghanistan, said troops, aided by 60 helicopters, made a “successful insertion” this morning and had begun “without a single hitch”.
US-led airstrikes rained down on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand Province, where up to 1,000 insurgents are believed to be holed up.
An MoD spokeswoman said 1,200 British troops were engaged in the offensive - and a further 3,000 were available – as the operation, led by US Marine Corps, started at dawn without incurring coalition casualties.