KABUL, Afghanistan – Thousands of American and Afghan soldiers launched an offensive against resurgent Taliban militants in five eastern provinces Saturday, seeking to expand the Afghan government's reach into the volatile frontier region, the U.S.-led coalition said.
The operation comes as a NATO-led force, including 2,500 U.S. soldiers, is pressing heavy attacks on militants in Afghanistan's south, claiming to have killed hundreds of guerrillas over the past two weeks.
The new push in the east is "part of a series of coordinated operations placing continuous pressure on Taliban extremists ... in order to provide security to the population, extend the government to the people and to increase reconstruction," the U.S.-led coalition said.
Dubbed Operation Mountain Fury, the offensive involves 7,000 U.S. and Afghan soldiers in the central and eastern provinces of Paktika, Khost, Ghazni, Paktya and Logar, the military said.
Insurgents and other Islamic extremist groups, including Al Qaeda, are known to operate in the region, especially in areas bordering Pakistan where the reach of the Afghan government is weak.
Underscoring the dangers, two separate insurgent attacks on a military base in Khost province killed a coalition soldier and wounded another Friday, the military said. A number of Afghan troops were also wounded, the statement said.
A suspected suicide bomber also blew himself up in the same province when explosives strapped to his body went off prematurely as he was approaching a police checkpoint Saturday. No one else was injured in the blast, police said.
The U.S. military said troops had been preparing the ground for Operation Mountain Fury for weeks and began the "maneuver phase" early Saturday.
A separate U.S.-led operation called Big Northern Wind has been going on in neighboring Kunar province's Korangal Valley since late August.
"Mountain Fury will continue until the conditions of bringing security, construction and growth are met," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, the top U.S. operational commander, said in the statement.
"The Afghan people are tired of war. They want what their government is capable of providing: security, employment, education and a better way of life," Freakley said.
In the south, about 60 suspected Taliban militants attacked a police checkpoint Friday, sparking a gunbattle in which four militants died, police said.
NATO and Afghan soldiers came to the aid of police after the insurgents attacked the checkpoint near the district police headquarters in Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, said Mohammad Zahir, the district police chief.
There were no casualties among the Afghan security forces or NATO. Police recovered the bodies of four suspected Taliban along with their weapons, Zahir said.
A bomb blast south of Kabul, the Afghan capital, killed three security guards and wounded another Saturday, police said.
The remote-controlled device went off as a car carrying four Afghan nationals passed by on the main road in Musayi district of Kabul province, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, a police official.
The victims were all Afghans working for local firms that provide security for Afghan and international aid groups, said Mohammad Daud Nadim, regional police chief. All four were armed at the time of the blast, he said.