Scores of Taliban Fighters Killed in NATO Offensive

By Noor Khan
Associated Press
Monday, September 4, 2006

PASHMUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 3 -- Warplanes and artillery pounded Taliban fighters hiding in orchards Sunday during a NATO-Afghan offensive in southern Afghanistan that the alliance said killed more than 200 insurgents in its first two days. Four Canadian soldiers were also killed.

If the estimate is confirmed, the battle would be one of the deadliest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban five years ago.

Warplanes dropped five bombs within about 20 minutes on orchards where insurgents were believed to be hiding. Explosions echoed across grape and pomegranate fields, and clouds of dust rose amid the greenery and dried-mud houses of the Panjwai district, about 30 miles from Kandahar city.

Operation Medusa was launched Saturday to flush out Taliban fighters from Panjwai and the neighboring Zhari district. NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy said alliance and Afghan troops had gained ground and disrupted the insurgents' command system.

Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said Taliban casualties were high but could not confirm the NATO report of more than 200 dead.

A NATO statement said its figure was derived from "surveillance and reconnaissance assets operating in Panjwai and Zhari districts, as well as information reported by various Afghan officials and citizens living nearby."

The alliance said it had no reports of civilian casualties, despite the heavy weight of fire being used. But a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Gen. Zahir Azimi, said earlier that an undetermined number of civilians had been killed.

Jason Husiak, a spokesman at the Canadian Defense Ministry, said four Canadian soldiers died in Sunday's fighting and others were wounded. There was no word on any casualties among Afghan troops.

On Saturday, a reconnaissance plane supporting Operation Medusa crashed, killing all 14 British servicemen on board. NATO said the crash was not caused by hostile fire, saying the plane reported a technical problem before it went down. Investigators examined the wreckage Sunday.

NATO forces took command of foreign military operations in the volatile south from a U.S.-led coalition on Aug. 1 during the worst fighting since the Taliban was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company