British troops bear brunt of south Afghan assault

British troops bear brunt of south Afghan assault
Fri Jul 10, 2009 3:57pm
By Peter Graff

BABAJI DISTRICT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - British forces in Afghanistan, mounting their largest operation of the war in parallel with a big U.S. advance, are bearing the brunt of Taliban resistance but believe the enemy are finally on the run.

Nine British soldiers have been killed in the past nine days as thousands of British troops have been mobilised in Operation Panther's Claw to clear out the Babaji district, a patchwork of irrigated farms in Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province.

The operation is under way in parallel with operation Strike of the Sword carried out by U.S. Marines further south, in what commanders hope will be a decisive summer in the province, a heartland of the insurgency.

Major Al Steele, who led a force of scores of soldiers from the 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland on a helicopter assault deep behind Taliban lines early on Saturday morning, said British fighters were attempting to flee the Babaji district in the wake of the assault, which began last week.

But he said the fighting had been tough because the guerrillas were well prepared and considered the area north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah to be critical.

"Just as we went into this summer with a firm plan of how we were going to conduct operations, the Taliban have done the same," Steele said.

"They aim to demonstrate not only to local nationals but to the world at large that they are still in control, and Babaji is the place they have chosen to do that," he said.

A large British force led by the Light Dragoons has been moving through the district in an attempt to clear it
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