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February 15, 2007

Afghanistan: Airstrike Kills Murderous Taliban Leader And Ten Aides;
Iraq: Security Crackdown Meets Little Resistance From Shi'as


Not with a whimper...

The Baghdad neighborhoods targeted by the Americans — Shaab, Ur and Baida — lie north of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, which had been off-limits until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lifted his protection of the notorious Mahdi Army, the largest Shiite militia.

Last year, U.S. soldiers came under intense sniper fire in those neighborhoods from Mahdi Army militiamen who were expanding into Shiite areas outside Sadr City.

This time, however, Iraqis watched in curiosity as some 2,500-3,000 troops — or an entire Stryker brigade — fanned out in the area, going house-to-house looking for weapons or suspected militia fighters as part of what it called "Operation Law and Order."

The increased security measures drew a mixed response from Iraqis — some angry over the inconvenience, others embracing any effort to stop the rampant violence.

"My friends and I who are the old women of the neighborhood went to the soldiers and welcomed them and prayed that God would help them to defeat the terrorists," said Um Sabah of the Mashtaal area in eastern Baghdad. "Although, the presence of army and vehicles is not very comfortable, we welcome it because it is for the sake of Iraq."

There was little if any resistance. Soldiers even teased one young girl about her taste in music after they found her doing homework on a couch, wearing white and pink socks with a poster of Shakira on the wall.

...

Staff Sgt. Michael James, 32, of Chillicothe, Mo., said the area in northeastern Baghdad had been targeted before but not in such force.

"This is the final clearing. We're trying to hit all the major hotspots. I don't think it has ever been cleared as fully as it will be today," said James, of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

James said he wasn't surprised that the troops did find more as they hunkered down in a so-called Joint Security Station in the area for the night.

"It's never clear. These guys are going to have safe-houses all over the place. Whenever we come into one area, I'm sure they just move on," he said. "Just our presence alone is enough to push the bad guys out. They're not stupid enough to fight an entire battalion, because they will lose."

...but a bang:

A NATO airstrike early Wednesday destroyed a compound housing a Taliban leader blamed for a wave of violence across southern Afghanistan, killing him and at least 10 others, NATO said.

NATO said the slain Taliban chief was linked to an uprising in the nearby town of Musa Qala, which the Taliban overran Feb. 1, and an attack Tuesday against a dam in nearby Kajaki.

"We have removed yet another Taliban enemy leader who will no longer threaten the peace and security of the Afghan people and their future," said Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The airstrike, which hit a compound in a small village outside Musa Qala, killed 11 Taliban fighters, NATO said.

Provincial Police Chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhail said nine fighters were killed. Wali Mohammad, a Musa Qala resident, said by telephone that a total of 20 people were killed in the strike. There was no way to independently verify the number at the remote site.

Malakhail said he had no reports of civilian casualties, but Abdul Ali, a tribal elder, said some family members who lived at the compound were also killed. But NATO said there was no evidence that any civilians had died, and that observers saw the bodies of 11 "military-age males" pulled out of the compound, but no women or children.



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