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German, Afghan Offensive In North Targets IMU

German soldiers inspect the site of a suicide bombing in Kunduz Province.
While Afghan and international troops claim to be making steady progress in Afghanistan's insurgency-plagued eastern and southern regions, a new joint German and Afghan offensive aims to drive insurgents from the relatively stable north.

Afghan officials have said that the joint offensive in northern Kunduz Province is in part intended to stop Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighters fleeing the ongoing Pakistani military offensive along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

General Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, explained the objectives of Operation Oqab, or falcon, during a press briefing on July 22.

"The recent agreement between NATO about a [northern] logistic supply route for NATO attracts our enemies to threaten this route,” Azimi said.

“On the other hand, the Pakistani military offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region has apparently forced foreign militants, in particular those loyal to [IMU leader] Tahir Yuldash, to move to Afghanistan's north. Our military has been closely watching this situation and Operation Oqab is part of our effort to restore security to the north," he said.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an extremist group with connections to Al-Qaeda and is banned in many Central Asian countries.

IMU fighters reportedly fled to Afghanistan in the 1990s and fought alongside Al-Qaeda when U.S.-led coalition forces entered the country in 2001. Much of the IMU's membership was believed to have been destroyed in the fighting in Afghanistan, and some IMU fighters reportedly fled to tribal areas in Pakistan.

Recently, the group has been increasingly mentioned in connection with reported unrest in eastern Tajikistan, and attacks have been attributed to IMU militants in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan since late May.

In an audio recording recently sent to RFE/RL's Tajik Service, a man claiming to be IMU leader Yuldash said his group was not involved in the recent death of a former Tajik emergency situations minister, Mirzo Zivoev.

Pakistani sources reported that Yuldash had been injured several weeks ago in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

The joint German-Afghan effort, which was launched earlier this week and coincides with a larger effort to establish security ahead of the country's August 20 presidential election, involves some 300 German soldiers and 900 Afghan security forces.

The initial thrust of the offensive was focused on Chardarah district, where Afghan officials claim to have killed 13 Taliban fighters, including two foreigners.

According to Noor Mohammad Sahim, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kunduz, residents of a village close to the fighting are claiming that a stray mortar round hit a mosque, killing 14 and wounding the mosque's prayer leader. Sahim reports that most of those killed were boys.

Some 3,700 German soldiers serve in the 65,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force made up of forces from 42 countries. Thirty-five German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Germany leads the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz.