East Afghan Clashes up 20 Percent This Winter-ISAF

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KABUL, Feb 26- Clashes between mainly U.S. troops and insurgents in eastern Afghanistan rose by 20 percent this winter compared to last year, a spokesman for NATO-led forces said on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to southern Afghanistan as part of a new strategy to break a stalemate against Taliban insurgents, but fighting in the east along the rugged Pakistan border is still far from finished.

Clashes in the east of Afghanistan, where mainly U.S. troops deployed went up by about 20 percent from November to January compared to the same three-month period last year, said Captain Mark Durkin, spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

But, he said, there had been a greater number of smaller incidents and the overall increase may have also been due to the milder winter, and a greater troop presence along the border.

The figures still represent a significant rise in violence over last year when the U.S. military said clashes in eastern Afghanistan rose by 40 percent in the first five months of 2007, compared to 2006.

Taliban militants and their allies operate on both sides of the long, mountainous and porous border using the tribal areas they control on the Pakistani side to train and equip.

Fighters from Afghanistan have traditionally slipped over the border into Pakistan to rest up during the harsh winter months and that has usually led to a lull in the fighting.

Afghanistan saw its worst levels of violence last year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. officials admit they are currently not winning the war in which large hi-tech Western armies find themselves fighting small groups of lightly armed insurgents who rely on suicide and roadside bomb attacks to undermine security.

Commanders predict violence will rise further this year as troops bolstered by reinforcements, move into areas they have seldom patrolled before.

(source ANTARA/Reuters)Kirim Pesan YM

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