Coalition forces are engaged in a new battle against Taliban fighters in the mountainous Paktika and Khowst provinces along the Pakistan border, an area where rocket attacks are launched against coalition fire bases several times a week, a U.S. spokesman said Friday.
The mission, dubbed Operation Haven Denial, began three days ago, Lt. Col. Douglas Lefforge said at a news conference at Bagram Air Base. The stated purpose is to "prevent the re-emergence of terrorism, deny anti-coalition fighters sanctuary and prevent further attacks against NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], coalition forces and equipment."
Lefforge said the operation will end "when the final objectives are met."
In an interview after the news conference, Lefforge said one of the coalition's objectives is to develop a level of security and stability so that nongovernmental groups that provide humanitarian assistance and reconstruction work to locals "can come and continue with the jobs they're in business to do -- taking care of people. They can't do that if they're not here."
Lefforge said the relatively few deaths in a country the size of Texas was not cause for great alarm.
The cities of Orgun-E and Shkin in the Paktika and Khowst provinces are within kilometers of the Pakistan border, which has been reported to be easily crossed by anti-coalition forces.
Lefforge said the coalition does not differentiate between Taliban and al-Qaida fighters -- that they are enemies of the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan.
"They become our enemy if they fire on us -- and they have been. We have between two and four rocket attacks a week in the Shkin and Orgun-E area. None has been successful or close," Lefforge said.
Coalition forces were on a heightened awareness Friday because of the patriotic significance of July Fourth, Lefforge said. "Obviously I don't know if it's necessarily considered a target day by enemies of the coalition, but out of security for our forces we have heightened awareness of it. We made it known this is a patriotic hot date."
Lefforge said July Fourth was grounds for celebration in Afghanistan. "People helped us secure our independence. Turn about is fair play."
He also announced Friday that special operations forces found a makeshift explosive device the size of a large shoe box Thursday under a bridge south of Gardez.
Afghan military forces secured the bridge until an explosive ordnance disposal team from Bagram Air Base arrived, Lefforge said.
The device had a 5-foot wire that was suspected to be an antenna for a remote-controlled device, he said.
The ordnance disposal team removed and destroyed the device. There were no injuries or damage to the bridge or equipment.