Foreign fighters flow into southern Afghanistan to battle US, allied forces
By Carlo Muñoz - 05/29/13 01:15 PM ET
Arab and Chechen fighters are flowing into a restive province in southern Afghanistan, as American and Afghan forces make their final push to flush Taliban forces from the area.
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), backed by U.S. military units, expect to clear Sangin province in southern Afghanistan cleared of all Taliban fighters by this week, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lee Miller, head of Regional Command-Southwest, said on Wednesday.
"They're closing that fight rapidly, and they've done quite well," Miller said of ANSF operations during the Sangin offensive.
"I suspect by tomorrow the Taliban will have been defeated in Sangin and move out to wherever else they intend to go here in the future," Miller told reporters at the Pentagon during a teleconference from Afghanistan.
The Sangin offensive, focused on the Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan, has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the Marines headed into the province three years ago.
This fighting season in Sangin, which will be the last one in Afghanistan before American combat forces pull out from the country in 2014, has been no different.
U.S. and allied strategy for this final fighting season will focus on the belt of Taliban strongholds stretching from southwest Afghanistan to the northeast part of the country, particularly along the restive Afghan-Pakistan border.
That said, Miller noted that fighters from outside the province and Afghanistan have begun to stream into Sangin, as Taliban forces attempt to push back against the American and Afghan offensive.
Close to 1,000 insurgents, including Arab and Chechen fighters allied with al Qaeda, launched a series of counter strikes against U.S. and ANSF positions in Sangin and Helmand provinces beginning Monday.
The skirmishes ended with four to six Afghan police officers dead and up to about 20 insurgents, according to recent reports.
Taliban officials also claimed to have overrun and taken over at least three police posts in the provinces.
For his part, Miller dismissed the 1,000-man Taliban force that reportedly attacked U.S. and Afghan forces during the counter strikes.
"The numbers were nowhere near 1,000. I'd say closer to 150, and the Afghans handled it," he said.
However, Miller refused to confirm the nationalities of the foreign fighters who were moving into Sangin and southern Afghanistan.
Roughly 66,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, with half of those forces scheduled to withdraw from the country this spring.
The final 32,000 American forces remaining in the country will start coming home following the country's presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America's combat role.