Afghan Special Forces backed by helicopter gunships freed more than 60 people held captive in a Taliban prison in southern Afghanistan, officials said yesterday, in a major raid against the resurgent Islamist group.
The operation conducted on Thursday in Now Zad district in the southern opium-rich province of Helmand comes in the midst of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, expected to be the bloodiest in 15 years.
“Afghan Special Forces liberated over 60 prisoners from an illegally run Taliban prison... during the cover of darkness via helicopter assault,” Nato said in a statement.
“The liberated prisoners were safely transported to Kandahar where they were turned over to... Afghan authorities.”
Nato, which backed the mission in a “train, advise and assist” role, added that two insurgents were killed during the operation, and many others were wounded and detained.
Afghan forces, backed by US Special Forces, launched a similar raid in Now Zad in December, freeing more than 40 soldiers and police held in a makeshift Taliban prison.
The raid marks a rare success for Afghan forces struggling to beat back the stubborn
The Taliban last month announced the start of their annual spring offensive, vowing “large-scale attacks” across
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently threatened diplomatic reprisals against Pakistan if it refuses to take action against insurgent havens on
His unusually strong remarks were in response to a Taliban assault on a security services office in the heart of Kabul, which left 64 people dead in what appeared to be the deadliest attack on the Afghan capital since 2001.
The carnage on April 19 cast a pall over international efforts in recent months to jumpstart Pakistan-brokered peace talks, which stalled last summer after the Taliban belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.
A bumper poppy crop in Afghanistan will help fund the Taliban and likely lead to fresh attacks on Afghan security forces after the harvest, a US general in Washington said on Thursday.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, a senior spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said fighting in Helmand province had actually dipped in recent weeks while members of the Taliban harvest poppy fields—but warned the lull was temporary.
“As the harvest really concludes here, and we think it concludes really as soon as this week, we do expect to see an uptick in the Taliban efforts to attack the ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces),” Cleveland said in a video
call with Pentagon reporters.
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been generally rising over the past decade, fueling the Taliban insurgency and spurring a growing crisis of drug addiction despite costly US-led
Though the total area under cultivation dropped during a drought last year, the southern province of Helmand retained its title as leader in growth of opium, which is used to produce heroin.
“There is a concern that with this very good poppy crop that they had this year, it is going to result in the Taliban being able to turn that into money for their
efforts,” Cleveland said.
Poppy farming has boomed over the years in southern and western regions, which include the most volatile parts of the country where the Taliban
insurgency is the strongest.
Afghan forces have been sent to the area around Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital which recently came close to falling to the Taliban.
Cleveland said between 700 and 800 US forces are in Helmand, training and advising
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