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Taliban relying on human shields

An Afghan army soldier salutes an Afghan flag after hoisting it on a building in Marja, Afghanistan.

Associated Press

An Afghan army soldier salutes an Afghan flag after hoisting it on a building in Marja, Afghanistan.

MARJA, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters holding out in Marja are increasingly using civilians as human shields, firing from compounds where U.S. and Afghan forces can clearly see women and children on rooftops or in windows, Afghan and U.S. troops said Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Mohiudin Ghori, the brigade commander of Afghan troops in Marja, said in some cases women and children may have been ordered to stand on a roof or in a window of buildings where Taliban fighters are shooting. "They are trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians," Ghori said.

Two more NATO service members were killed in the Marja operation Wednesday, the alliance said in a statement without identifying them by nationality.

Their deaths brought to six NATO service members and one Afghan soldier who have been killed since the attack on Marja, the hub of the Taliban's southern logistics and drug-smuggling network, began Saturday. About 40 insurgents have been killed, Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal said.

Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a NATO spokesman, told journalists in Brussels that most of the objectives have been achieved.

"Perhaps the pocket in the western side of Marja still gives freedom of movement to the Taliban, but that is the extent of their movement," he said.

Operation Moshtarak (which means "together") is the biggest offensive since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and a test of President Barack Obama's strategy for reversing the rise of the Taliban while protecting civilians.

On Wednesday, an Afghan soldier climbed to the roof of an abandoned shop and raised his country's green-and-red flag before provincial officials, hundreds of Marine and Afghan troops and a few civilians.

U.S.: Taliban must cut al-Qaida ties

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Wednesday the United States is monitoring reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government but will not participate unless the insurgents renounce al-Qaida. This came the same day a Maldives government spokesman said delegations representing the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks for three days late last month in the island nation.

Weapon back in use: NATO officials said Wednesday they had resumed use of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, a multiple rocket launcher used in a strike that killed 12 people, mostly women and children, inside an Afghan family home. NATO said an investigation found the HIMARS had not malfunctioned, but it still was not known why the house was rocketed.

Arrest confirmed: Pakistan confirmed Wednesday that it has Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 leader, in custody. Officials said he was providing intelligence that was being shared with the U.S.

Times wires

Taliban relying on human shields 02/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 9:49pm]
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