KABUL, Afghanistan – The resurgent Taliban militia poses a tactical problem for the U.S.-led coalition but it cannot take over Afghanistan again, a top U.S. general said.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his comments on a visit here ahead of NATO's takeover of security operations in southern provinces, where Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks against coalition forces.
The Taliban "may be a day-to-day tactical problem for us, but we are a long-term strategic problem for them," Pace was quoted as saying Thursday by the Department of Defense Web site. "They can pick and choose some battles, but they cannot take over this country again."
Police arrested 13 suspected Taliban militants Friday after surrounding two vehicles in southern Helmand province's Garmser district, area police chief Ghulam Rasool said.
Police also confiscated 13 AK-47 assault rifles, heavy machine guns and eight rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the cars without a bullet being fired, Rasool said. Garmser was one of two Helmand towns briefly overrun by Taliban militants earlier this month before being reclaimed by coalition and Afghan troops.
Afghanistan is mired in its deadliest wave of violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime for hosting Usama bin Laden.
Two coalition soldiers were wounded during a clash with Taliban rebels Thursday in Helmand's troublesome Sangin district, said Maj. Scott Lundy, a coalition spokesman. He did not disclose the soldiers' nationalities. He said their conditions were not life-threatening.
Also Thursday, coalition troops used artillery to kill three suspected Taliban rebels holed up in a house following a failed ambush on a coalition convoy in the Zhari district of southern Kandahar province, the coalition said.
More than 10,000 U.S., Canadian, British and Afghan troops are staging a large-scale anti-Taliban offensive across the south, preparing the ground for the NATO-led security force to stabilize the area. The coalition says more than 600 Taliban have been killed in the offensive since June 10.
Pace also traveled Friday to neighboring Pakistan to discuss security cooperation with anti-terrorism ally, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a Pakistani military statement said. He was expected back in Kabul later Friday.
The U.S. military is trying to bolster security cooperation between the two neighbors. Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of doing too little to stop militants using Pakistani soil to stage attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies such claims.