NATO's Afghanistan gains could be lost -commander

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LONDON, Sep 28 (Reuters) Hardfought gains by NATO troops this year could be lost in coming months if Afghan forces fail to hold ground seized from the Taliban, the NATO commander in Afghanistan said in an interview.

US General Dan McNeill, who commands the alliance's 35,000-strong force yesterday, said NATO had scored successes this year in driving Taliban fighters from mountain valleys in the southern Helmand province, an opium-producing Taliban heartland.

The NATO forces in the area are mostly British troops who arrived in large numbers only last year. They say they have recaptured much of the Helmand River valley from the Taliban over the past six months.

But McNeill said Afghan troops had not yet performed as well as hoped in holding the ground after it was cleared, and there was a chance the Taliban could regroup and return.

''We are likely to have to do some of this work again,'' he told Britain's BBC radio in an interview.

''I think there is some chance of that because the Afghan national security forces have not been as successful in holding as we would like them to be.'' ''It would nice if the Afghan national security force could hold it, then there's less of a chance we'll have to do it again.'' REUTERS SG BD1308

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