Source AP ©

NATO locks Afghanistan's main ring highway for Taliban forces

Pavel Macko, a Slovak general responsible for coordinating ongoing NATO military operations, said that NATO troops in ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) lowered the number of Taliban militant raids on the nation's large ring road - the country's main economic lifeline.

"We focused on the key road network - Highway One - and key connectors of this main road," Macko said. "We were trying to keep freedom of movement on it, I believe successfully, not only for us, but particularly for the government of Afghanistan, particularly for economic flow."

He said securing the highway had allowed the Afghan government to assess national infrastructure and determine which reconstruction projects were needed in areas that previously were hard to reach due to threats from insurgents.

The highway also has been used by opium traders to move their illicit crops from fields to selling points.

Security had been notoriously bad, especially the southern stretch between Kabul and Kandahar, that aid groups routinely suspended food shipments because of attacks on their vehicles. The highway has also been the site of numerous kidnappings, including 23 South Koreans taken hostage by militants in July.

The Afghan government, seeking to boost its influence and control in the regions, agreed with NATO last year to make securing and upgrading the ring road a priority this year. The mission was named Operation Now Ruz, or New Year in English.

Macko said ISAF troops had conducted "dozens" of related offensive operations around the ring road to push back Taliban forces.

"There were attempts to mount more coordinated attempts against us, but we were able to decrease their freedom of movement ... to degrade to some extent their midlevel leadership of command and control capabilities and disrupt their lines of communications and lines of supplies," Macko said.

The general said could not assess NATO's entire plan for the year, as some efforts were still ongoing.

Offensive operations would continue despite the coming winter, he said.

This week, NATO forces launched a new operation - Operation Pamir - meant to keep pressure on the insurgents through the winter, when Taliban militants traditionally retreat to higher ground to regroup.

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