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Troops braced for Taliban onslaught

International forces in Afghanistan's Helmand province are braced for a spring onslaught by the Taliban, a senior British commander has said.

Brigadier George Norton, the deputy commander of coalition forces in south-west Afghanistan, said there had been "undeniable" progress since the US troop surge last year.

Speaking by video link from Camp Bastion to journalists in London, he said commanders were now expecting a Taliban counter-offensive to try to regain some of the ground that they had lost.

"We expect the newly established security and governance will be subjected to the test of an insurgent offensive over the spring and summer," he said.

"So while cautiously optimistic, we must wait and see how resilient the local nationals, their security forces, and their local government will be if the insurgents really do come after them as we expect.

"There is still a fragility to this progress, not least because so much of it is less than a year old."

2011 is regarded as a critical year by coalition commanders as they prepare for the full handover to Afghan control at the end of 2014.

The coalition commander for the south-west, US Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills, said that Helmand was "a very dark place" 12 months ago, but the situation had improved significantly.

"The enemy is now significantly reduced in numbers and capability. The insurgent leadership has fled the province," he said.

"We believe that he suffers from a lack of money and a lack of recruits. His leadership has been decimated by our special forces."

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