Friday, July 3, 2009

Wire: US Marines Push Deeper Into Southern Afghanistan

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that U.S. Marines moved into villages in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan on Friday, meeting little resistance on the second day of the biggest military operation in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

The Associated Press reported that one Marine was killed and several others injured or wounded on Thursday, when some 4,000 Marines launched the operation Helmand province -- a remote area that is the center of the country's illegal opium cultivation, which helps finance the insurgency.

So far there has been little resistance from the Taliban, according to military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier.

The goal of the operation is to win over the local population, Pelletier said.

"We are not worried about the Taliban, we are not focused on them. We are focused on the people," Pelletier said. "It is important to engage with the key leaders, hear what they need most and what are their priorities."

AP noted the following details:
As the operation entered its second day, the units secured control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser, and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, Pelletier said.

"They waited for the local and village elders," outside Khan Neshin and "with their permission they went in and now are engaged in talks," Pelletier said.

As the Marines in the village of Nawa sat for a meeting with a group of 20 Afghan men and boys who were squatting on dirt ground, they listened as list of their concerns came in a form of questions.


Three years ago, only a handful of U.S. troops were in Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest province that is bisected by the Helmand river.

While Pelletier said winning hearts and minds was the mission's main focus, other military officials have said the immediate goal of the offensive is to clear away insurgents before Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Without such a large Marine assault, the Afghan government would likely not be able to set up voting booths where citizens could safely travel.
President Barack Obama has ordered the Pentagon to deploy 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

This is a developing story.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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