KABUL, Afghanistan -- US and Afghan troops launched an antiterrorist operation in eastern Afghanistan, the US military said yesterday. It is the latest effort to destroy a network of insurgents including Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and forces loyal to a renegade warlord.
In another sign of the struggle to stabilize Afghanistan, government loyalists in the south appealed for help fighting the Taliban, two years after the militia's rulers were driven from power by a US-led invasion.
Operation Mountain Resolve began Friday in Nuristan and Kunar provinces with an airdrop by the 10th Mountain Division, said Colonel Rodney Davis, a US military spokesman. The provinces are about 95 miles northeast of the capital, Kabul.
"The main objective is against terrorism," Davis said. "It is focused on destroying anticoalition elements, disrupting their ability to operate in the eastern region of Afghanistan."
The combined operation by US troops and Afghan militia will probably target members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Hizb-e-Islami, a group loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, has called for a jihad, or holy war, against foreign troops in Afghanistan, and so far has eluded US efforts to arrest or kill him.
Hekmatyar issued a statement saying that attacks by his supporters will not stop until the US-led coalition and its "puppet government" withdraw. "America knows that it has just one choice, that it has to leave Afghanistan and Iraq," the statement said. "America will only increase casualties in its forces if it increases its troops in Afghanistan or Iraq."
The two-page, Pashtu-language statement was faxed to the Associated Press in Peshawar from an unknown location. Its authenticity was verified by Hizb-e-Islami official Salahuddin Salah.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Jawid Luddin, said the three groups "probably are part of the same network."
Afghanistan's national army is not participating in the new operation, but the US military coordinated the offensive with Kabul, Karzai said. Karzai's central government, installed after the Taliban's ouster, has limited influence outside Kabul, and Luddin said it remains deeply concerned about poor security there.
Parts of the north are controlled by rival warlords, who back the government only nominally. In the south, Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent months against coalition and government troops and Kabul loyalists.