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Posts Tagged ‘troops’

U.S. to send 1,400 extra troops to Afghanistan: report

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:13 am

The United States plans to send 1,400 additional Marines to Afghanistan to boost its combat forces ahead of the spring fighting season, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The United States, which led a 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban, has about 100,000 troops in the country, and President Barack Obama is under pressure to show results so he can begin a promised withdrawal this year.

A U.S. Marine patrols with a member of an Afghan border guard unit in the desert of the lower Helmand River valley, in southern Afghanistan in this July 1, 2009 file photo

“The Marine battalion could start arriving on the ground as early as mid-January. The forces would mostly be deployed in the south, around Kandahar, where the U.S. has concentrated troops over the past several months.” the paper said. It cited unnamed officials.

The Taliban are at their strongest since they were ousted form power, although operations against the insurgency have intensified since 2008. More than 700 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan last year, and civilian casualties were at record levels.

Obama said last month that enough progress was being made in the campaign to meet his pledge to start withdrawing U.S. troops by July and hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014.

Source: SGGP

Mexican troops kill 11 in clash with drug gang: official

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2010 at 6:56 am

Rebel troops claim Madagascar government suspended

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2010 at 6:27 am

‘French troops may begin Afghan withdrawal in 2011’

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2010 at 7:40 am

French and some allied NATO armies could begin to withdraw some of their forces from the conflict in Afghanistan as early as 2011, Defence Minister Herve Morin said Thursday.

French soldiers patrol in Surobi district in September 2010.

“There’s a fixed date for NATO in the framework of its new strategy, that’s the start of 2011, because in 2011 we’re going to transfer a whole series of districts to the Afghans,” he told RTL radio.

“At that moment, there could be the first movements, or first withdrawals of Allied forces from Afghanistan. In any case, that’s the calendar set by Barack Obama, that in 2011 the first American troops could quit Afghanistan.

“And that’s what a certain number of European countries have started to say,” he explained, insisting that this has nothing to do with a threat issued against France on Thursday by Islamist militant chief Osama bin Laden.

Source: SGGP

Dutch troops leave Afghanistan after four years

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 11:19 am

KABUL (AFP) – Dutch troops ended their mission in Afghanistan Sunday after four “proud” years, in a departure experts say signals the beginning of a drawdown of foreign forces that will leave a worrying void.

The pull-out is the first significant drawdown of troops from the Afghan war, now in its ninth year, and comes as Taliban-led violence worsens and US forces suffered their worst month for casualties.

Dutch soldiers of Charlie Air assault company are seen erecting a tent beside their Bushmaster at an overnight halt during a patrol in The Chora Valley, in Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan Province. AFP file

A Dutch embassy official in Kabul said a small “change of command” ceremony and reception was held at the main military base in central Uruzgan province where most of the country’s 1,950 soldiers have been deployed.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which had asked the Dutch to extend their mission by a year, paid tribute to the Netherlands’ contribution and said it would maintain its current capacity in the area.

“Dutch forces have served with distinction in Uruzgan, and we honor their sacrifice and that of their Afghan counterparts during the Netherlands’ tenure in the province,” Major Joel Harper, an ISAF spokesman, said in a statement.

“We have planned for the transfer to the new multi-national operation to ensure a smooth transition… We will maintain current capabilities,” he said. The Netherlands’ deployment began in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers. NATO’s request for an extension of the mission sparked a political row that led to the Dutch government’s collapse in February, and the announced drawdown.

NATO and the United States have close to 150,000 troops in the country, but a mounting death toll for foreign troops has piled political pressure on the United States and its allies as voters grow increasingly weary of the blood price of the war.

The death toll for US soldiers in July was an all-time high of 66. A total of 408 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the website.

A Netherlands foreign ministry official said all soldiers would return home by September, while most hardware, including four F-16 fighter jets, three Chinook and five Apache helicopters would be back by the year’s end.

In central Uruzgan province the Dutch forces’ focus has been less on combat operations, and more on their “3D” approach of defence, development and diplomacy, which has been held up as a benchmark for other missions.

“The international community and NATO are helping Afghanistan stand on its own legs… The Netherlands has done its duty and fought for the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” said Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen in a statement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the Netherlands “for the work that Dutch soldiers and development workers have done, and are still doing, in building the country”.

But the Taliban remain very active in the province, where opium production is high, and the insurgents have welcomed the Dutch withdrawal, urging other countries to follow suit.

Canada is set to withdraw its entire force of 2,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, while Britain and the US have signalled that some troops will also leave in 2011 with an overall aim to end combat operations in 2014.

“This is the start. It’s a chain — the Dutch forces start to withdraw, followed by the Canadians, then the British by 2014. In the middle I think we will see a number of other NATO members… setting a timetable to leave,” said Afghan political analyst Haroon Mir.

The Dutch will be replaced by an American-led coalition force including Australian, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers.

But Mir said that local residents’ resistance to the Taliban was unlikely to toughen in Uruzgan, where he said security was worsening.

“In some districts people have risen against the Taliban but the problem is the Taliban have become very strong there so the local resistance will not do anything against them,” said Mir.

Despite that, Dutch chief of defence, General Peter van Uhm, whose son was among the 24 Dutch casualties during the mission, said his troops had achieved “tangible results that the Netherlands can be proud of”.

Since the start of its lead role in Uruzgan at a cost of some 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) to the Dutch state, the number of NGOs doing development work in the province has risen from six to 50, according to a Dutch embassy document.

Source: SGGP

Venezuela sends troops to Colombian border: Chavez

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2010 at 11:19 am

President Hugo Chavez said Friday that Venezuela has deployed military units and troops to the Colombian border, because outgoing President Alvaro Uribe is “capable of anything,” as a row escalates between the two.

Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia on July 22, one week after Uribe accused Venezuela of harboring 1,500 leftist Colombian rebels in its territory, a charge Chavez has strongly denied.

“We’ve deployed military units, air force, infantry, but quietly because we don’t want to upset anybody, the population,” Chavez told state-run VTV television in a telephone interview.

The leftist leader did not say how many troops and exactly what military ordnance was involved in the move.

“Uribe is capable of anything in these last days” before he leaves office on August 7, said Chavez, who had also threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States if it backed an attack by Colombia, its chief ally in the region.

Last Sunday the president cancelled a trip to Cuba, claiming the risk of a Colombian attack had never been greater.

The Colombian Air Force on Friday said it would set up an air base in Yopal, in eastern Casanares department, to keep an eye over the border area with Venezuela and take on Colombian rebel forces in the region.

The air base will also be tasked with protecting crude oil installations in the region and also with “fighting the different drug trafficking groups in that part of the Colombian territory,” the air force statement said.

Uribe and Chavez have often been at loggerheads in the past. In November, Chavez broke off diplomatic relations over a US-Colombian military base agreement he said was a threat to regional stability. Chavez also did some sabre-rattling at the time.

In their latest tussle, Colombia took its accusations to the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) on July 22, while Venezuela earlier this week went before a foreign ministers’ meeting of regional body Unasur, the Union of South American Nations, which called for a presidential summit to try to resolve the crisis.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday said there was a possibility things could be patched up between Caracas and Bogota when Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos takes over from Uribe next week.

“If the new Colombian government fully rectifies (its position) and adopts a posture of absolute respect for Venezuela’s government and our country, we are sure we can build a new path,” Maduro said.

But just a day earlier another top Venezuelan official, Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez had stoked the rising tensions with Colombia, warning that his government does “not fear war if it is imposed on us.”

Rodriquez said Bogota’s accusations that Venezuela is harboring Colombian guerrilla leaders were a “foul, vulgar and offensive pretext to attack Venezuela.”

Uribe on Friday defended his decision last week to have the OAS take up accusations that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army guerrillas were using bases in Venezuela to stage their anti-government attacks on Bogota.

File photo shows Venezuelan troops close to the border with Colombia

“You have to be daring to denounce terrorists on the international level. You must be daring and respectful of the international community, but honest in laying out our claims,” Uribe said.

“It has been a difficult step, one that crates problems, diplomatic frictions, but it’s necessary,” the outgoing president added.

Uribe leaves after eight years in office with an 80 percent approval rating chiefly for his crackdown on the FARC, which has roughly halved its fighting strength to some 7,000 combatants, according to official figures.

Source: SGGP

100 foreign troops die in Afghan war in June

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

KABUL (AFP) – A total of 100 foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have died in June, the deadliest month for NATO in nine years of conflict, intensifying concerns about the conduct of the war.

An announcement by the US Department of Defence of the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the strife-torn western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320, compared with 520 in all of 2009.

A memorial to British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, at a patrol base in the Nahr e Saraj, Helmand on June 28, 2010. AFP

AFP’s figures are based on a tally kept by the independent website.

The Defence Department said 20-year-old Private Robert Repkie of Tennessee had died on June 24 of “injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident” that was under investigation.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said 81 international troops had been killed in combat so far in June.

He said 12 troops had died of non-combat related causes. The remainder, who are not counted by ISAF, had died of injuries after returning home for treatment.

No NATO troops deaths were reported in Afghanistan on Monday, the spokesman said, adding: “A rare good day for us this month.”

The previous highest monthly toll was last August, at 77.

The United States and NATO have 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 by August in an effort to quell the intensifying war against the hardline Islamist Taliban.

The sacking last week of US General Stanley McChrystal for insubordination has concentrated concerns about the progress being made in bringing the insurgency under control.

His replacement, US General David Petraeus — due to take up the post on July 4, according to military officials — arrives to enormous pressure as casualties rise and Western public opinion continues to turn against the war.

The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, also acknowledged at the weekend that there were “serious problems” with the Afghan war.

“We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency,” he said.

Lack of action in cleaning up endemic official corruption is seen as an obstacle to progress, as many ordinary Afghans distrust the government the West is fighting to prop up.

On Monday, a senior US lawmaker angrily blocked billions of dollars for Afghanistan, vowing not to extend aid until President Hamid Karzai fulfills pledges to act against corruption.

Representative Nita Lowey, who sits on the powerful committee in charge of the budget, said: “I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists.”

President Barack Obama’s administration requested 3.9 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan in the 2011 fiscal year starting in October, an aide said.

While much of the anti-Taliban effort is concentrated on the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar — the Taliban heartland — a major offensive is under way in the border region of Kunar province, according to ISAF.

It said in a statement Sunday that more than 600 ISAF and Afghan troops were pursuing Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Kunar and that “a number of insurgents” had been killed.

Two US troops were also killed, ISAF said, though there was no immediate update Tuesday.

The Washington Post reported that up to 150 Taliban insurgents had been killed in battles along the Kunar border with Pakistan.

The US-led operation, which began Sunday, was one of the largest yet in the region around Kunar province, said the newspaper, citing US officials as calling it “one of the most intense battles of the past year” in Afghanistan.

NATO has said the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers has been caused by the alliance stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where the Islamist militia has previously been unchallenged.

The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.

The United Nations reported this month that IED attacks had risen by 94 percent in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period in 2009.

Source: SGGP

Uzbeks allege rapes, say troops let violence occur

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:25 am

An estimated 400,000 people — nearly one-twelfth the population — have fled their homes to escape Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic violence, the U.N. said Thursday as throngs of refugees huddled in grim camps along the Uzbekistan border without adequate food or water.

That figure represents half the roughly 800,000 ethnic Uzbeks who lived in Kyrgyzstan’s south before Central Asia’s worst ethnic violence in decades erupted there last week. More than 200 people — possibly many more — have been killed, and Uzbeks have been all but purged from some parts of the south.

Ethnic Uzbeks on Thursday accused security forces of standing by or even helping ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs as they slaughtered people and burned down neighborhoods. Col. Iskander Ikramov, the chief of the Kyrgyz military in the south, rejected allegations of troop involvement in the riots but said the army didn’t interfere in the conflict because it was not supposed to play the role of a police force.

Uzbek men overturn a burned car as they build a barricade in the Uzbek district of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Thursday, June 17, 2010

The military and police set up roadblocks and began patrols this week after the worst violence was over.

Uzbeks interviewed by Associated Press journalists in Osh, the country’s second-largest city, said that on one street alone, ethnic Kyrgyz men sexually assaulted and beat more than 10 Uzbek women and girls, including some pregnant women and children as young as 12.

Matlyuba Akramova showed journalists a 16-year-old relative who appeared to be in a state of shock, and said she had been hiding in the attic as Kyrgyz mobs beat her father in their home in the Cheryomushki neighborhood.

Akramova said that when the girl came downstairs to bandage her father’s head, another group of attackers sexually assaulted her in front of him.

“What they did to her — even animals wouldn’t do that,” Akramova said. “She lost consciousness when they started beating her on the back with feet.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat, who is investigating the violence in Osh, said it was difficult to say how many rapes occurred.

“I just documented at least one case where I spoke to the woman who was raped,” she said. “There are several other women in the very same location, so by now I can say with confidence that cases like this did happen. The question is the scale.”

Members of the Kyrgyz community have denied accusations of brutality and have accused Uzbeks of raping Kyrgyz women. Eyewitnesses and experts say many Kyrgyz were killed in the unrest, but most victims appear to have been Uzbeks, traditional farmers and traders who speak a different Turkic language and have been more prosperous than the Kyrgyz, who come from a nomadic tradition.

Odinama Matkadyrovna, an Uzbek doctor in Osh, said there were probably more rapes than have been reported, but many victims were reluctant to speak out about their experience.

“Our mentality is such that they conceal (cases of rape),” she told the Associated Press Television News.

U.N. Humanitarian Office spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said an estimated 400,000 people have been driven from their homes. About 100,000 refugees are in neighboring Uzbekistan, while some 300,000 displaced people remain inside Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 5.3 million.

The last official estimate of refugees who fled the country was 75,000. No number of internally displaced was previously available.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that at least 40,000 of the internally displaced need shelter, but many have been taken in by family or other people.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has accused the deposed president of igniting long-standing ethnic tensions by sending gunmen in ski masks to shoot both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. The government, which overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, accuses the former leader of deep corruption and says that he and his supporters were attempting to shake official control of the south and reassert their grip on the main hub for Afghan heroin trade in the area. Bakiyev, speaking from his self-proclaimed exile in Belarus, has denied involvement.

Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher investigating the violence in Osh, said he saw soldiers fail to protect residents, and that many witnesses said the military went a step further and helped the rioters.

Solvang said Kyrgyz troops were standing just about 200 yards (some 200 meters) from the Cheryomushki neighborhood when the looting and killings started but didn’t interfere.

“This is an extreme failure on the part of the government to intervene and protect these people”, he told APTN.

Khasan Rakhimov, a resident of Cheryomushki, said soldiers drove an armored personnel carrier into the area and cleared the way for Kyrgyz attackers.

“They shot at all who put up resistance,” he said of the troops.

An uneasy calm enforced by checkpoints and military patrols slowly returned to the center of Osh on Thursday. In Uzbek areas that were not totally cleared out, residents who stayed behind, mostly men, had barricaded themselves into their neighborhoods, felling trees and piling up old cars on the streets.

Many Uzbek men said they have lost all faith in the interim government and don’t want their relatives to return soon.

“Until we have a 100 percent guarantee of safety, nobody will come back,” said Ilkhom Rakhimov, a resident of Osh’s Sharq district. “I don’t think that will happen any earlier than three months from now.”

Small groups of ethnic Uzbeks, including an elderly invalid in a wheelchair, carefully made their way into Uzbekistan through a small hole in a barbed wire fence marking the border Thursday under the gaze of Uzbek soldiers. Many more were assembled on the Kyrgyz side hoping vainly to follow them.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that Uzbek authorities set up dozens of camps for refugees in three border provinces and made some 70 schools available for sheltering them. The vast majority of the refugees are women, children and elderly people and over 350 pregnant women have been registered so far.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday sent two flights to Uzbekistan to deliver relief supplies to the Andijan area where most of the refugees are located, and other U.N. organizations also have provided assistance.

Many of the thousands of refugees to have crossed into Uzbekistan said they are afraid to return to Osh, a city with a population of more than 1.1 million together with nearby areas. Many would have nowhere to live if they returned.

“My house is not there anymore, it is burnt down,” said Khafiza Eiganberdiyeva, 87, who is among 20,000 refugees in a camp set up near Yor Kishlok, three miles (five kilometers) from the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border.

Melis Kamilov, a baker who had fled to the border with his wife and five children, said his family lost hope after supplies on the border ran out, and returned out of desperation only to see their home turned to rubble.

“Is there any difference where to die? There is no food, no water, no humanitarian aid,” the 36-year-old said. “I am an Uzbek. Is that a crime?”

More than 1 million Uzbeks who lived in Kyrgyzstan before the crisis had few representatives in power and pushed for broader political and cultural rights. About 800,000 of them resided in the south, rivaling Kyrgyz in numbers in Osh and the nearby town of Jalal-Abad. Both ethnic groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

The deputy head of the provisional government, Azimbek Beknazarov, put the official death toll on both sides at 223, but others said the figure could be significantly higher.

Violence has been limited to the south, but Beknazarov said Thursday that the interim authorities fear that Bakiyev’s clan also could try to foment unrest in the northern part of the country, including the capital, Bishkek. The government strengthened roadblocks on all entrances into Bishkek and tightened security in prisons to prevent turmoil.

Source: SGGP

British ministers on Afghan visit want troops out

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2010 at 9:18 am

Britain will not set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the foreign minister said Saturday, after arriving in Kabul with a warning that the British government wanted to pull out as soon as possible.

William Hague, along with Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell met President Hamid Karzai on their first visit to the country since the new coalition government took power in London this month.

They had made clear to Karzai that Britain expected to see his government make progress to match the international strategy for ending Afghanistan’s long insurgency, he said.

“We are urgently taking stock of the situation, but in the sense not of deciding whether to support that strategy but of how to support that strategy in the coming months and years,” he told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague addresses a press conference at The British Embassy in Kabul. Senior British cabinet ministers arrived in Afghanistan Saturday with a warning that Britain wants to withdraw its troops as soon as possible

“There isn’t going to be an arbitrary or artificial timetable. We have to give the strategy that has been set out the time and support to succeed (and) that does need and require Britain’s continued military involvement.”

Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second biggest commitment behind the US in a force of 130,000 fighting the Taliban insurgency under NATO command.

The number of foreign troops is set to rise to 150,000 by August as part of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy aimed at speeding the end of the war now well into its ninth year.

The ministerial visit coincided with the death of a Royal Marine in southern Afghanistan on Friday, bringing to 286 the number of British soldiers killed in the country since 2001.

It also came as The Times newspaper published an interview with Fox, in which he said the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British forces, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Fox said the answer to the question of whether Britain needs to be in Afghanistan was “an unequivocal yes”.

“We are here primarily for reasons of our own national security. We don’t want to see instability in Afghanistan, which could again become a failed state, which is a safe haven for terror groups which could launch attacks internationally,” he said.

“We have the resolve to see through this situation to ensure we get to a security position where the Afghan security forces can manage their own internal and external security

“We don’t wish to be here any longer than we have to, to achieve that situation,” he said.

Karzai has pledged that Afghan security forces will be able to take responsibility for the country’s security by 2014, with the help of his Western backers in bankrolling and training the police and army.

Hague said bilateral discussions had focussed on ensuring this commitment is met.

London also supported Karzai’s plans for a “peace jirga,” or conference, set for May 29 on ending the war and possibly holding peace talks with the Taliban.

Hague said the jirga, along with an international conference slated for late July and parliamentary election due in September were milestones for gauging Afghanistan’s commitment to standing alone.

“Our objective is to reach a situation where Afghans are able to look after their own security and their own affairs without any danger being presented to the rest of the world from this country,” he said.

“It is not possible to say when we will reach that objective but it is possible to hope that we will see some serious political progress through the peace jirga, the Kabul conference and the parliamentary elections during the course of this year.”

The importance of Afghanistan to Britain was underscored last Saturday when Karzai became the first foreign leader to meet Prime Minister David Cameron.

Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has said it wants to cut the defence budget by at least 25 percent but has pledged to support the forces in Afghanistan.

In the Times interview, Fox said British troops stationed in southern Helmand province would not relocate to neighbouring Kandahar, where the US is leading what they hope will be a final fight to eradicate the Taliban.

NATO announced Friday that about 8,000 British troops in Helmand are to come under US operational control, as part of a restructuring of NATO forces in the south, the Taliban heartland where fighting is fiercest.

Source: SGGP

Thai troops storm into Bangkok protest zone, 2 die

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 5:02 am

Thai soldiers with armored vehicles stormed into a fortified anti-government encampment Wednesday in central Bangkok, breaking through bamboo barricades and killing at least two protesters in a crackdown after weeks of clashes that have killed dozens.

Once inside the protest zone, troops fired M-16 rifles at fleeing protesters and shouted, “Come out and surrender or we’ll kill you.”

An Associated Press reporter who followed the troops into the protest camp saw the bodies of two men sprawled on the ground, one with a head wound and other apparently shot in the upper body. They were the first known casualties in the assault that began before dawn Wednesday on a 1-square kilometer (3-square kilometer) stretch of downtown Bangkok that protesters have occupied for weeks.

Thai soldiers fire torawds anti-government protesters near a barricade on Wednesday May 19, 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand.

It was not clear how many protesters were still inside the encampment. As troops entered the fringes of the area, they passed smoldering fires and hastily abandoned campsites where clothes were still hanging on laundry lines. Shoes were scattered, chairs were overturned and a huge pile of rice was covered with flies.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn went on national television four hours after the crackdown began to announce it was under way, speaking first in Thai and then in English.

“The operations will continue throughout the day,” Panitan said. “We would like to reassure the citizens of Bangkok that the operations are designed to make sure we stabilize the area.”

The army action came after weeks of defiance by the protesters who are seeking to oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“This is D-Day,” said one soldier when asked earlier in the day if this was the final push to clear the protest zone.

Thick black smoke from mountains of burning tires darkened the skies Wednesday, billowing over the skyscrapers of this Asian metropolis of 10 million that has descended into chaos over the last week, with at least 39 killed, most of them civilians.

The violence in Bangkok, a popular stop for tourists heading to Thailand‘s world-famous beaches, has caused concern internationally and raised doubts about the stability of this Southeast Asian nation.

The so-called Red Shirt demonstrators marched into Bangkok in mid-March to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections.

They created an encampment in Bangkok’s posh downtown Rajprasong district in April, surrounding themselves by a barricade of tires and bamboo spears, some of which appeared to be in flames Wednesday.

An estimated 3,000 people were believed to be inside the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) protest zone, which has taken over several blocks of downtown Bangkok’s toniest shopping and tourism district.

Source: SGGP