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    NATO, Afghan Troops Launch Major Offensive

    US military says more than 1,000 NATO troops have launched major offensive against key Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan

    The U.S. military says more than 1,000 NATO troops, mostly from the United States, have launched a new offensive against a key Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

    Military officials say Afghan forces also are participating in the operation (known as "Cobra's Anger") in the Now Zad valley of Helmand province, which is aimed at clearing insurgents, and locating roadside bombs and other explosives.

    The provincial governor's spokesman (Daud Ahmadi) told reporters four Taliban militants were killed in fighting, and hundreds of landmines and explosives were seized Friday.

    Now Zad was once the second biggest town in Helmand, but is now nearly empty, after residents fled ongoing violence.  Taliban forces now use the area to transport drugs, weapons and fighters.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, U.S. Central Command Chief General David Petraeus said Friday the offensive lays the groundwork for the arrival of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops, many of whom will be deployed in the south.
     
    General Petraeus says the military has been working for months to extend security around key towns in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban influence is strong.

    President Barack Obama announced the additional U.S. forces this week, saying they will help accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces and allow U.S. forces to begin leaving the country by July 2011.

    Helmand province produces the largest share of Afghanistan's opium crop, which supplies 90 percent of the world's heroin.

    The illicit drug trade provides a key source of revenue for Taliban insurgents.

    Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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