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Afghanistan ops not slowed: Nato

The Nato-led command stressed that military operations to secure vast areas of Afghanistan would not be delayed by the ouster of its top commander and mounting casualties.

To reinforce the message, Nato announced more than 600 Afghan and international troops were battling al Qaida and Taliban forces on Sunday in the eastern province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan.

Three members of the allied force were killed in the fighting, including two Americans, a military statement said.

Nato and US forces were awaiting the arrival of new commander Gen David Petraeus, who is taking over from Gen Stanley McChrystal. He was dismissed by US President Barack Obama after he and his aides were quoted in Rolling Stone magazine making disparaging remarks about top Obama administration officials.

There has been concern the leadership shake-up will further slow a push into the volatile south that has already been delayed by weeks in some areas and months in others. But Nato spokesman Brig Gen Josef Blotz told reporters in Kabul the worries are unwarranted and the military is not pausing because of the changes. "We will not miss a beat in our operations to expand security here in Afghanistan," Brig Gen Blotz said.

He added Gen Petraeus was expected in Kabul in the next seven to 10 days. The spokesman repeated assurances of many diplomats in recent days that the change in commanders does not mean a re-evaluation of counterinsurgency strategy that Gen McChrystal implemented last year.

The top American military officer, Adm Mike Mullen, flew to Afghanistan on Saturday to assure President Hamid Karzai that Gen Petraeus would pursue the policies of his predecessor, including efforts to reduce civilian casualties.

Operations appear to be continuing apace. Nato said "a number of insurgents" were killed in the Kunar fighting, which the alliance described as an attack against al Qaida and Taliban leadership in the area. Fighting continued on Sunday night.

Two recent airstrikes in the north, east and south killed at least nine militants, including two local Taliban commanders, Nato and Afghan officials said. No civilians were injured. Eight other militants were killed in a Nato-Afghan military operation in eastern Ghazni province, according to officials..

Nato deaths also are climbing daily. A US service member was killed in a bomb attack in the south, along with two others in the fighting in Kunar. Nato also reported a troop from the international coalition was killed on Sunday during an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan, and four others died in a roadside bombing in northern Afghanistan. In southern Zabul province, a roadside bomb attack on a private security company vehicle killed two of those inside and injured three, according to the provincial spokesman, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar.

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