updated 9/15/2010 1:49:13 PM ET 2010-09-15T17:49:13

U.S. and Afghan forces began advancing slowly Wednesday through the insurgent-filled district in southern Afghanistan that gave birth to the Taliban movement, treading ground where guerrilla fighters have operated freely for years, the British general in charge of NATO troops here said.

Maj. Gen. Nick Carter said the latest push in Zhari district is part of a crucial strategy aimed at reducing violence in the provincial capital Kandahar by stemming the flow of fighters and weapons there and connecting civilians estranged from their government.

But he downplayed the extent of the latest troop movements headed by the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, which mans outposts with Afghan troops throughout the district. He said they were part of military operations that have been going on in Zhari for at least four months. U.S. and Afghan forces on Wednesday, he said, had only gone "slightly further than we've gone before."

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The movements were significant, though, because the locations were areas where coalition forces had never been — at least not in force.

One of the targets in Zhari was the village of Makuan, which U.S. commanders expect to clear within days. Carter said troops had "breached some IED belts" adjacent to the village, referring to bombs coalition forces often call improvised explosive devices.

He said troops encountered "some resistance," but gave no details.

Also Wednesday, the provincial governor of Kandahar's spokesman, Zelmai Ayubi, said two children aged 11 and 14 were killed in a homemade bomb explosion. Another child was wounded in the blast in the Malajat area on the southwest edge of Kandahar city.

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Meanwhile, NATO said 25 Afghan civilians had been killed and 60 injured so far in September as the result of the Taliban insurgency.

"While the Taliban talk of protecting the people and issue disingenuous directives claiming to shield Afghans from harm, instead they have increased their use of indiscriminate violence, killing scores of innocent Afghans," NATO spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said in a statement. "Their rhetoric does not match reality."

Civilian deaths in NATO military operations are a major source of contention between the alliance and Afghanistan's government, even though the United Nations says the insurgents are responsible for most civilian deaths and injuries.

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Video: U.S. forces launch assault on Taliban stronghold

  1. Closed captioning of: U.S. forces launch assault on Taliban stronghold

    >>> today we've been keeping a close eye on assaults by u.s. and afghanistan forces on the taliban strong hold of kandahar . tom joins us now live from kabul. troops from the army's elite 101st airborne division are involved in this, correct?

    >> that's right, thomas. the military says several companies of them accompanied by afghan soldiers and they're moving in the zahri district, slightly to the west of the city of kandahar . the aim of the moment is to stop taliban supply lines from reaching into kandahar city itself. they've been using it for some time to move ammunition and the proceeds of drug trafficking into the the city of kandahar . the military says they've encountered some resistance. they've been in the area for about four months, but this is the first time they've gone near some of the smaller villages that until now have been controlled by taliban fighters. many afghan farmers and the civilian farm population have moved out of the area. it's the haven for the taliban and it's where the movement started years ago. and it's known to be the homeland of the taliban . american forces and afghan forces taking along with them afghan police and newly appointed government officials in an effort to resemble the area as they go through it and put that government administration in place so that that taliban can't return. the military has made no mention of any casualties so far. they're call it a significant movement rather than an operation and they're pointing out that it's part of a wider strategy to pacify kandahar , but most in southern afghanistan.

    >> can you confirm or deny whether or not the taliban is using anger for the possibility on the koran burning here, using that to fuel fire and support there?

    >> well, in fact, there was a demonstration here today in kabul. ten protesters were injured and up to 25 police were injured when demonstrators clashed with police. now, it started as a protest against any burning of any koran anywhere in the world. but they shouted death to america , death to israel, death the britain and death to hamid karzai . the interior ministry is saying it's only half about the koran burning. it's signs that the taliban is acknowledge stating these crowds as we approach an election saturday morning.


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