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World in brief: Offensive launched against Taliban

An Afghan soldier mans a checkpoint in Arghandab district, in Kandahar province,  Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
An Afghan soldier mans a checkpoint in Arghandab district, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Hundreds of Afghan and Canadian troops launched a major attack Wednesday against Taliban fighters who have moved into several villages in southern Afghanistan in recent days, according to military officials.

Troops with the Afghan army and the Canadian command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force initiated joint patrols around the district of Arghandab in the province of Kandahar early in the morning. Helicopter gunships flew overhead and armored vehicles rolled into the district as Taliban fighters exchanged fire with NATO and Afghan forces.

Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Sayed Agha Saqib, said at least 16 Taliban fighters were killed and four injured in the counteroffensive. He said insurgents had staked out positions in the orchards of Arghandab and were generally surrounded by NATO and Afghan forces.

NATO spokesman Mark Laity said there were no reported NATO casualties.

Mexico City

Food manufacturers will freeze prices

Food manufacturers promised Mexico’s government on Wednesday that they would freeze prices on more than 150 food products to help families cope with rising costs.

President Felipe Calderon said prices for goods such as beans, canned tuna, fruit juices, coffee, ketchup and canned tomatoes will remain fixed until Dec. 31.

“This is a measure that will positively and directly benefit the finances of millions of Mexicans,” said Calderon, flanked by representatives of Mexico’s business chambers. “This reflects the commitment of Mexican businessmen to the country and to price stability.”

The Mexican leader has blamed high food costs on rising global energy prices, soaring food demand in China and India and the use of corn for ethanol production.

Bogota, Colombia

More land being used to grow coca

The amount of land devoted to production of coca, the leaf used to make cocaine, has grown at a dramatic pace in Colombia despite a huge American-funded counter-drug program of aerial fumigation and aggressive interdiction, a U.N. agency said Wednesday.

In a 132-page report based on satellite imagery and on-the-ground surveys, the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime said that Colombian farmers planted 245,000 acres of coca last year, 27 percent more than in 2006. Coca cultivation in the world’s three top producers, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, increased 16 percent, to 448,743 acres, a swath of land slightly smaller than Delaware.

“The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock,” Antonio Maria Costa, director of the Office on Drugs and Crime, said in a statement. “A surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation.”

The findings follow almost eight years of heavy aerial fumigation of drug crops in Colombia, an American-designed strategy that has cost more than $5 billion.