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40 killed as troops take aim at Taliban

Police: 10 killed by explosives likely planted on minibus



North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least 40 alleged insurgents were killed as part of Operation Mountain Thrust, a military operation aimed at routing out resurgent Taliban fighters who have recently cropped up in southern Afghanistan, the military said Thursday.

One coalition soldier was wounded in the mission, which began early Wednesday and involved ground troops and close air support, according to a military statement.

The military initially said the operation would focus on Oruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zabol provinces. All but Oruzgan lie along the mountainous border with Pakistan, where many Taliban fighters are thought to be hiding. (Watch how Afghanistan's future is at stake -- 2:51)

The insurgents were killed in Paktika province, which is east of the targeted provinces and abuts the Pakistan border, the military statement said.

An airstrike on a remote stronghold near the village of Orgun-e kicked off the Wednesday mission, and over the next 24 hours coalition forces captured one wounded insurgent.

The operation, which began about a month ago, is designed to extend the reach of the Afghan government, which has failed to establish a presence in the region since U.S. forces ousted its hard-line Islamic predecessors in 2001.

The operation involves more than 10,000 U.S., Afghan and coalition troops who will conduct sweeps against Taliban safe havens over the next several days. The coalition forces include British, Canadian and Romanian troops.

"There has been somewhat of an increase in the number of incidents by Taliban and other forces which are opposed to the central Afghan government," Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said, explaining the operation Wednesday. (Watch how the troops are targeting the Taliban -- 2:41)

He was referring to efforts by the Taliban to recruit new members and re-establish its influence in the southern provinces.

"So there are pockets, if you will, in some of the districts in those four provinces where there has not been much security force presence," Ham said, "and so when there is now security force presence, there is some conflict there."

Ham said the four provinces would ultimately constitute the southern regional command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. NATO is set to take over the command from U.S. forces soon.

Despite its focus on the Taliban, Operation Mountain Thrust also includes humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, the general said.

Col. Tom Collins, a U.S. military spokesman for the coalition, said part of the operation will involve building roads and medical facilities.

Minibus explosion

A minibus carrying workers to an American base blew up in Kandahar on Thursday, killing 10 people and wounding 15 others in an incident thought to be caused by the detonation of explosives planted on the vehicle.

Thursday's blast -- which took place at 7:40 a.m. -- happened after the Toyota Coaster mini-bus collided with a car, said Sher Shah, a Kandahar police official.

"The Coaster was carrying some laborers and also some translators to the American base in Kandahar," he said. "We think that the explosives were hidden in the bus and perhaps they were originally supposed to blow up later when the vehicle reached the base. The bus is much more damaged than the car. Some of those injured were passers-by."

Kandahar's main hospital had received seven dead bodies and treated 17 injured people, a doctor there said.

A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Reuters news agency.

"It is our success. It shows that we have access to even highly guarded government places and we can do whatever we want," Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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