US Marines Launch Major Operation in Afghanistan - "Largest Since Vietnam"

US Marines Launch Major Operation in Afghanistan - Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post. Thousands of US Marines descended upon the volatile Helmand River valley in helicopters and armored convoys early Thursday morning, mounting an operation that represents the first large-scale test of the US military's new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. The operation will involve about 4,000 troops from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which was dispatched to Afghanistan earlier this year by President Obama to combat a growing Taliban insurgency in Helmand and other southern provinces. The Marines, along with an Army brigade that is scheduled to arrive later this summer, plan to push into pockets of the country where NATO forces have not had a presence. In many of those areas, the Taliban have evicted local police and government officials, and taken power. Once Marine units arrive in their designated towns and villages, they have been instructed to build and live in small outposts among the local population. The brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, said his Marines will focus their efforts on protecting civilians from the Taliban, and on restoring Afghan government services, instead of a series of hunt-and-kill missions against the insurgents.

US Marines Try to Retake Afghan Valley From Taliban - Richard A. Oppel, Jr., New York Times. Almost 4,000 United States Marines, backed by helicopter gunships, pushed into the volatile Helmand River valley in southwestern Afghanistan early Thursday morning to try to take back the region from Taliban fighters whose control of poppy harvests and opium smuggling in Helmand provides major financing for the Afghan insurgency. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade leading the operation represents a large number of the 21,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year amid rising violence and the Taliban's increasing domination in much of the country. The operation is described as the first major push in southern Afghanistan by the newly bolstered American force. Helmand is one of the deadliest provinces in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have practiced sleek, hit-and-run guerrilla warfare against the British forces based there.

US Launches South Afghan Offensive - Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal. The US military launched a major operation in southern Afghanistan, an early test of the Obama administration's new strategy for beating back the resurgent Taliban and stabilizing the country in advance of this summer's presidential elections. Operation Khanjar, or "strike of the sword," began shortly after 1 a.m. local time when close to 4,000 Marines, backed by about 700 Afghan security personnel, moved by air and ground into villages in the Helmand River Valley, a major opium-producing region and Taliban stronghold. US commanders said the forces would build an array of small patrol bases designed to forge closer ties with local people and better protect them from militants, borrowing an approach used in Iraq that is central to the administration's new counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan. The troops hope to root out pockets of Taliban fighters and find and destroy insurgent weapons caches, a US officer in Kabul said. The troops will also seek to interdict opium shipments and persuade local farmers to plant alternative crops, such as wheat, he said.

US Launches Major Offensive Against Taliban - The Times. Thousands of U.S. Marines stormed into an Afghan river valley by helicopter and land early today, launching the biggest military offensive of Barack Obama's presidency with an assault deep into Taliban territory. Operation Khanjar, which the Marines call simply "the decisive op", is intended to seize virtually the entire lower Helmand River valley, heartland of the Taliban insurgency and the world's biggest heroin producing region. In swiftly seizing the valley, commanders hope to accomplish within hours what NATO troops had failed to achieve over several years, and by doing so turn the tide of a stale-mated war in time for an Afghan presidential election on August 20. "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 Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marines in southern Afghanistan said in a statement.

US Marines Launch Assault in Afghanistan - Reuters. US Marines launched a helicopter assault early on Thursday in the lower Helmand river valley in southern Afghanistan, spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier said. A Reuters correspondent in the valley saw flares in the sky over the town of Nawa, south of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. The valley of irrigated wheat and opium fields along the Helmand river is largely in the hands of Taliban fighters who have resisted British-led NATO forces for years. The United States has sent 8,500 Marines to Helmand province in the last two months, the largest wave of a massive buildup of forces that will see the number of US troops in Afghanistan rise from 32,000 at the beginning of this year to 68,000 by year's end. President Barack Obama has declared the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan to be the main security threat facing the United States.

Major Military Operation Under Way in Afghanistan - Fisnik Abrashi and Lara Jakes, Associated Press. Thousands of US Marines and hundreds of Afghan troops moved into Taliban-infested villages with armor and helicopters Wednesday evening in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's revamped strategy to stabilize Afghanistan. The offensive in the once-forgotten war was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday local time in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in the southern part of the country. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested 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 new phase. British forces last week led similar missions to fight and clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring 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 a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen. The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of US 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.

US Opens 'Major Afghan Offensive' - BBC News. The United States army says it has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. The US military says about 4,000 marines as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by Nato planes. Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the "massive size of the force" and its speed. Officers on the ground said it was the largest Marine offensive since Vietnam. The operation began when units moved into the Helmand river valley in the early hours of Thursday. Helicopters and heavy transport vehicles carried out the advance, with NATO planes providing air cover.

US Launches 'Major Operation' in Afghanistan - CNN News. US troops have launched a "major operation" against Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, US military officials announced in Afghanistan early Thursday. About 4,000 Americans, mostly from the Marines, and 650 Afghan soldiers and police launched Operation Khanjar - "strike of the sword" - in the Helmand River valley, the US command in Kabul announced. The push is the largest since the Pentagon began moving additional troops into the conflict this year, and it follows a British-led operation launched last week in the same region, the Marines said. It is also the first big move since US Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over as the allied commander in Afghanistan in mid-June. In Washington, a senior defense official said the size and scope of the new operation are "very significant." "It's not common for forces to operate at the brigade level," the official said. "In fact, they often only conduct missions at the platoon level. And they're going into the most troubled area of Afghanistan." Helmand Province, where much of the fighting is taking place, has been a hotbed of Taliban violence in recent months. At least 25 US and British troops have been killed there in 2009. The defense official said the operation is a "tangible indication" of the new approach that McChrystal - a former chief of the Pentagon's special operations command - is bringing to the nearly eight-year war.

US Marines Storm South in Major Afghan Offensive - Ben Sheppard, Agence France-Presse. US Marines launched a massive offensive into the Taliban heartlands of southern Afghanistan early on Thursday as President Barack Obama's new war plan swung into action. Operation Khanjar (Strike of the Sword) involved nearly 4,000 US forces as well as 650 Afghan police and soldiers, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade said, announcing the pre-dawn launch of the drive in southern Helmand province. Deploying about 50 aircraft, the air and land assault was to push troops into insurgent strongholds in what officers said was the biggest offensive airlift by the Marines since Vietnam. "What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert," MEB commander Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said in a statement. Troops would hold areas they take until they could transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces, said Nicholson. It was the Marines' first major operation since they deployed over the past few months to reinforce the international effort against the Taliban, leading an insurgency that has seen record attacks this year and controlling several areas.

Marine General Takes Fight To The Taliban - Tom Bowman, National Public Radio. The leader of some 4,000 Marines who descended early Thursday morning on the Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan is Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a veteran of Iraq who was seriously wounded there five years ago. Commanding general of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Nicholson has one of those lived-in faces - creased and craggy, like a boxer's or a veteran beat cop. And he has the scars of a Marine who survived battle. It was Sept. 14, 2004, a day Nicholson remembers clearly in Iraq's Anbar province. The war was not going well.

Q&A: The New US Strategy in Afghanistan - Jonathon Burch, Reuters. Concrete signs of Washington's new strategy for Afghanistan are taking shape with the final elements of some 8,500 US Marines arriving in southern Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, to bolster over-stretched British forces. The Marines launched a helicopter assault early on Thursday in the lower Helmand river valley, with nearly 4,000 Marines and US sailors and about 650 Afghan troops and police involved. The Marines are the biggest single wave of an additional 17,000 extra US troops and 4,000 more to train Afghan forces ordered by President Barack Obama. US forces will reach 68,000 by year-end, more than double the 32,000 at the end of 2008. Former special operations chief General Stanley McChrystal has meanwhile taken command of the present 90,000 US and NATO troops with the Pentagon saying it is time for "fresh thinking." Following are questions and answers about the new strategy and the main areas McChrystal wants to address.

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