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."
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.
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.