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U.S. Reports Gains Against Taliban Fighters

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan are fleeing to the Pakistani border after being routed in recent operations by the United States Marines, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/world/asia/03afghan.html?_r=2&ref=asia&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

By CARLOTTA GALL
Published: June 3, 2008

Routing the Taliban Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been clearing Taliban and foreign fighters from the district of Garmser, in southern Helmand Province, an important infiltration and drug trafficking route used by the Taliban to supply insurgents farther north.

“The insurgents, after experiencing these several weeks of pressure below Garmser, are trying to flee to the south, perhaps to go back to the sanctuaries in another country,” said the NATO commander, Gen. Dan K. McNeill.

He did not name Pakistan, but Helmand Province shares a border with Pakistan, and the Taliban and drug traffickers have long used refugee camps across the border as a sanctuary from American firepower.

The governor of the province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, also spoke of the rout of the Taliban.

“For the last two days we have information that Taliban are escaping to the border areas,” he said.

The insurgents, including numbers of foreign fighters, were said to be fleeing to Girdi Jungle, an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and the border town of Baramcha, as well as the southernmost towns of Dishu and Khaneshin, which sit on the edge of the desert and offer quick access to the border.

Governor Mangal said hundreds of foreign fighters had joined the Taliban in their fight against marines in Garmser in recent weeks.

But he said they had suffered heavy losses.

Nineteen bodies of foreign fighters were found in one location, he said.

General McNeill, who hands over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan this week after 16 months in the post, said that if the Taliban and foreign insurgents continued to enjoy free sanctuary outside Afghanistan, their numbers would continue to grow.

He also seemed to warn Pakistan to contain the threat emanating from its land.

“If there are insurgencies in places that are not in Afghanistan, but very close by, and security forces are not taking them on, I don’t think that bodes well for the whole region,” General McNeill said.

Despite the rout of Taliban forces, the general warned that they were not the only problem in Helmand Province and that the enormous opium crop and the powerful drug business posed a comparable threat to Afghanistan’s stability.