US forces making inroads to Haqqani

Washington: US forces, in a big push into areas close to Pakistan`s lawless North Waziristan, have killed 115 insurgents in four days of intense fighting against Haqqani militants to gain control of a critical corridor and resupply route to key bases in northeastern Afghanistan.

Deploying long-range bombers from as far away as Persian Gulf emirates of Qatar and bases in Kandahar and Bagram, US and NATO forces are using long-range rockets fired from more than 120 kms away to break-up large groups of Haqqani network, al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who, intelligence reports say, are concentrated in Kunar province.

The US commanders have described the ongoing operation codenamed "Knife Edge" as a "high-intensity, sensitive" mission to hit the Haqqani network, the New York Times reported in the firsthand account of the battle from Kunar`s provincial capital Asadabad.

American military officials said the fighting in the rugged Kunar province near the Afghan-Pak border has been going on since October 15.

NATO officials said the coalition and its Afghan partners had killed at least 115 insurgents in the past week. The forces are involved in a series of multiple operations that will have larger combined impact.

Simultaneously with the push into Kunar, coalition and Afghan forces have launched big operations elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan with sights set on the dreaded Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda linked group that operates from Pakistan.

"We have many F-15s and F-16s to count, almost continuous coverage," the NYT quoted an American field commander as saying.

"The Afghan army is in the lead and the coalition has the supporting role," the US commander said, adding that besides heavy rockets and bombers, the allied forces were also employing heavily armed plane, the AC-130, which the Afghan militants called a "death plane".

The operation is going on as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan after touring Afghanistan to face an almost defiant Islamabad in talks that are being held in an atmosphere of rancour.

The NYT said major fighting was taking place in Ghaziabad and Asmar, two of the several districts in Kunar, that have become something of a gathering point for large numbers of fighters crossing the border from Pakistan.

"Our greatest concentration has been on Ghaziabad district, where we believe the Taliban have built their bases and strongholds," said Col Mohammed Numan Atifi, a spokesman for the Afghan National Army`s 201st Corps.

"Our aim is to destroy their bases and their stations in these areas," he said.