Taliban offensive 'achieved two thirds of objectives'

Nato today announced the recent counteroffensive it launched against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan had achieved two-thirds of its goals.

Nato today announced the recent counteroffensive it launched against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan had achieved two-thirds of its goals.

“A significant proportion of the objectives have been taken,” said Nato spokesman James Appathurai.

He said the current operation “could continue without needing extra troops,” even though generals were still looking for some 2,000 more soldiers to speed up the counteroffensive.

“There are sufficient forces in theatre to complete Operation Medusa successfully,” said Appathurai, referring to the offensive that began on September 2 to drive into Taliban strongholds.

Any addition to those troops could help deliver a decisive blow to the Taliban in the region.

Nato generals today struggled to persuade allies to provide the troops after commanders caught unawares by the ferocity of Taliban resistance to the alliance push into southern Afghanistan.

The alliance, created to defend Europe against Soviet attack, has been forced into the first major land battle in its 57-year history as Taliban insurgents defy a drive by 8,000 British-led Nato troops into the southern heartlands of Afghanistan’s Islamist former rulers.

They called a conference at the alliance’s military headquarters in southern Belgium to try to muster reinforcements and extra air cover in an effort to crush the Taliban before they slip back to mountain hideaways for the winter.

“Positive indications were given in terms of force generation,” said Appathurai, adding however that “no formal offers were made at the table.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged other allies to support the mission.

“It is important that the whole of Nato regards this as their responsibility,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference in London. “Nato is looking at what further requirements there are and Nato and Nato countries have got a duty to respond to that.”

However, European allies, with thousands of troops already committed elsewhere in Afghanistan or in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Congo and most recently Lebanon, are wary of sending more to the battlefields of Kandahar and Helmand, where recent fighting has killed more than 30 Nato troops and hundreds of militants.

Nato’s top operational commander, US Gen. James Jones, made the appeal for more troops last week, saying the force is about 15% short of full strength.

However, European allies, with thousands of troops already committed elsewhere in Afghanistan or in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Congo and most recently Lebanon, are wary of sending more to the battlefields of Kandahar and Helmand, where recent fighting has killed more than 30 Nato troops and hundreds of militants.

Gen Jones said Taliban forces had switched tactics and were launching conventional battles against Nato’s troops and their Afghan army allies in the south, rather than relying on hit-and-run attacks.

The Nato force in the south is led by Britain, which has around 4,500 troops in Afghanistan. It is backed by about 2,000 each from Canada, the Netherlands and United States and smaller contingents from Romania, Denmark and others.

Pressure has been mounting on other major allies to do more.

However, France and Italy have recently committed to taking lead roles in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon; Germany is already playing a leading peacekeeping role in northern Afghanistan with 2,600 troops and does not want them drawn into the southern fighting; and Turkey’s Chief of Staff Gen Yasar Buyukanit last week ruled out sending any combat troops to supplement the 900 Turkish soldiers helping with reconstruction in Kabul.

Military analysts say the increasing international commitments on overstretched European militaries mean Nato will find it hard to raise more troops.

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