Afghan, NATO forces attack insurgents in east

April 14, 2012 - 4:26 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan forces with air support from NATO combed through the country's mountainous northeast in their third day Saturday of a major offensive against militants in a province that serves as an insurgent supply route from Pakistan.

Mohammad Zareen, a spokesman for Nuristan province, said nearly 30 insurgents have been killed and at least 30 have been wounded in the operation that began Thursday night in Kamdesh district, a hotbed of the insurgency.

The offensive comes at the beginning of Afghanistan's spring fighting season. The government and the U.S.-led coalition are expected to step up their operations as temperatures warm across the nation.

"Kamdesh is an important and strategic place for insurgents in eastern Afghanistan," Zareen said. "It's the main way for insurgents to supply insurgents across eastern Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we have control of some parts of Kamdesh, but not all."

Afghan officials say that one policeman and a woman have been killed in the fighting, with another four Afghan soldiers and another woman wounded.

A unit of an unknown number of Afghan commandos and about 400 Afghan policemen are conducting the operation, and another 200 police are soon to join them.

"This time we're not going to just conduct a big operation and leave," Zareen said, adding that government-backed forces have now gained control of the main road through Kamdesh for the first time in years. "After clearing the area, we will set up extra checkpoints to help maintain peace for the people."

In a statement released Saturday, the Afghan Defense Ministry said it launched the operation because residents were complaining that insurgents were becoming more active in the area.

"The commandoes descended into the area by helicopters," the ministry said. "Other Afghan army units are on alert in nearby Nangarhar and Kunar provinces if there is any need for reinforcements."

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.