By Jason Straziuso
Friday, June 16, 2006
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan, June 15 -- More than 10,000 Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops began a massive anti-Taliban operation across southern Afghanistan on Thursday, while a bomb killed seven people riding a bus to a coalition base for work.
Military forces are "moving forward with large-scale operations" in four southern provinces -- Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zabol, the U.S. military said in a statement. It is the largest offensive since the 2001 invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.
Meanwhile, a bomb hidden in a bus headed to a coalition base in southern Kandahar city exploded during morning rush hour, killing seven people and injuring 17, coalition officials and the Interior Ministry said.
A coalition spokesman, Maj. Quentin Innis, blamed the attack on Taliban militants and said it clearly targeted Afghans working for the coalition. Among the dead were interpreters and workers for the air base, Afghan officials said.
"It's the first time Afghans working here have been deliberately targeted by the Taliban. These are local guys trying to support their families," he said.
The offensive, dubbed "Operation Mountain Thrust," is part of a major push to squeeze Taliban fighters responsible for a spate of ambushes and suicide attacks against coalition forces and Afghan authorities in recent months.
The operation was also timed to coincide with the upcoming transfer this summer of command in the south from the U.S.-led coalition to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
"There is no scheduled end date to Mountain Thrust. The coalition will continue operations well into the summer and until objectives are met," the statement said.