Major military operation under way in Afghanistan
U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces moved into Taliban-infested villages Wednesday evening in one of the Obama administration's first major military operations in the previously forgotten war in Afghanistan, AP reported.
The offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. local time in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. More than 4,000 Marines and an estimated 650 Afghan soldiers and police sought to clear insurgents from towns and villages along the Helmand River Valley before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.
Dubbed Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," the military push was described by officials as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's newest phase. British forces last week led similar missions to fight and clear out insurgents in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.
Southern Afghanistan is considered a Taliban stronghold. It also is a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from his Pashtun tribesmen ahead of next month's election.
The Pentagon is deploying 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 of much as are now in Iraq.