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Coalition force to launch major operation in S. Afghanistan

RIA Novosti

06/12/2007 14:40 KABUL, December 6 (RIA Novosti) - The joint command of the coalition force in Afghanistan has announced the start of a large-scale military operation against Taliban insurgents in the south of the country.

The coalition force comprises NATO troops, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan sanctioned by the UN Security Council in December 2001, and the Armed Forces of Afghanistan.

A coalition spokesman said the operation will begin on Thursday in the Helmand province. Residents of neighboring villages have been ordered to leave their homes to avoid civilian casualties. More than 7,000 villagers have already left the area.

Meanwhile, "routine" operations against Taliban units are ongoing in Helmand. According to the Afghan Defense Ministry, on Wednesday a convoy carrying weapons and ammunition to insurgents was stopped in the Garmsir area.

A suicide bomber rammed his car filled with explosives into a bus carrying Afghan military personnel in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 13 people. The suicide attack was the second in the capital in the last two days and coincides with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's two-day visit to Afghanistan.

On Tuesday a similar attack on a NATO convoy heading from Kabul airport to the U.S. Embassy wounded at least 20 civilians. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Gates arrived in Kabul on Monday to assess the rising level of violence, which is hampering the progress of peace in the war-torn South Asian country.

According to the Associated Press, Taliban militants launched more than 133 suicide attacks in 2007 and at least 6,200 people have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year.

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