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NATO Troops Stage Air Assault on Taliban Stronghold in Southern Afghanistan

British soldiers in Afghanistan say they have moved into one of the last Taliban strongholds in southern Helmand province with a major air assault. NATO says the recent deployment of additional U.S. troops in the region helped make the operation possible.

Afghanistan's NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, says more than 500 troops took part in Operation Panther's Claw, which began just before midnight Friday.

ISAF says the mission was designed to clear and hold one of the last remaining Taliban strongholds in southern Helmand province.

The operation was complex. It involved 12 Chinook helicopters, supported by 13 other aircraft, including helicopter gunships, jets and unmanned drones. The aircraft dropped hundreds of British troops into Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

An ISAF spokesman gave details of the mission to VOA over the phone. He asked that his name not be used.

"The aim of the operation was to secure a number of canal and river crossings in order to establish a permanent ISAF (NATO) presence in the area, which has previously been a Taliban stronghold," he said. "The troops were quickly followed by another company of soldiers plus Royal engineers and counter improvised explosive device teams who spent the last two days building a number of check points on the main route in and out of the area to stifle any movement by insurgents."

ISAF says insurgents mounted a series of attacks to disrupt the operation, but were repulsed by British troops, who killed several militants. Within the next few weeks, the territory will be handed over to Afghan police.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, another military spokesman for Task Force Helmand, says the arrival of more U.S. troops helped make the operation possible. A total of 21,000 U.S. troops and trainers are to be deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's new war strategy, to combat a dramatic rise in extremist attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops over the past year.

U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones was in Afghanistan Tuesday to follow up on President Obama's ambitious plans to stabilize the country ahead of presidential elections in August. Jones met with American General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. General Jones is also expected to visit Pakistan, where the army is in the midst of operations to hunt down top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.