6 Nato troops killed in bloody Afghan day

KABUL: Six Nato soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in one of their deadliest days this year as the US commander led calls for swift governance following a major offensive against the Taliban.

The military deaths bring to 107 the number of foreign soldiers who have died in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AFP count.

More than double the number of foreign troops perished during the first two months of this year compared to the same period in 2009, as thousands more soldiers pour into Afghanistan as part of a strategy to end the war.

One of the six NATO troops killed was a British soldier, who was shot dead in southern Afghanistan, but nationalities of the other five were not released.

Bomb attacks killed another 10 Afghans Monday in southern Afghanistan, where NATO commanders are concentrating a US-led surge that will bring the overall number of foreign troops in Afghanistan to 150,000 by August.

The Taliban insurgency, which was launched soon after the 2001 US-led invasion brought down their Kabul regime, has become progressively deadlier for foreign forces, peaking with 519 foreign troop deaths in 2009.

US General Stanley McChrystal is leading a new counter-insurgency strategy -- concentrated in the Taliban heartland of the south -- designed to capture insurgent bastions, guarantee security and restore Afghan government authority.
Afghan Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili on Monday visited the southern town of Marjah, where 15,000 US-led troops launched a major offensive last month, accompanied by McChrystal in a bid to reach out to the local populace.
Khalili was the most senior Afghan government official to visit the war-scarred township, which had been controlled by the Taliban and drug lords for years until the February 13 launch of Operation Mushtarak ("Together"). "The most important thing is to bring peace and stability to the people in Afghanistan," Khalili told about 300 male residents, sitting on the ground. "This is a beginning in Marjah. We will be with you. We will stay and fight. We will bring you good governance," he added.

The vice president reached out to embrace one elderly man, who stood up to say that his relatives had been "martyred" during the military operation, and promised to give him money and assistance.

Another man, with a white beard and white turban, later identified as Abdul Kader, said he was suffering from lack of water to irrigate his farmland and complained that his house was destroyed during the offensive.

McChrystal told reporters in Marjah that local governance was the key to the success of the comprehensive plan for keeping the Taliban at bay. "The key thing is to get the locals represented and shape it the way they want because they'll know best," he said. "Clearly, it's governance. We have to maintain security or nothing can be done. I put governance first."

Authorities have been reluctant to return thousands of displaced villagers because of innumerable mines left by the Taliban.

McChrystal acknowledged there could be Taliban sleeper cells in Marjah but said others may put away their weapons and see what happens. "If the governance and security are not sufficient, then you run a higher risk of some of those guys re-emerging," he said.