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Offensive launched against Taliban

July 02, 2009|Times Wire Services

LOWER HELMAND RIVER VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN — U.S. Marines launched a helicopter and land assault early today in the lower Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan, an area largely in the hands of Taliban insurgents, military officials said.

Nearly 4,000 Marines and U.S. sailors are taking part in the assault, along with about 650 Afghan troops and police, a Marine statement said.

The valley of irrigated wheat and opium fields along the Helmand River is mostly controlled by Taliban fighters who have resisted British-led NATO forces for years.

U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders have said they intend to deploy reinforcements to seize Taliban-held territory in the south in time for Afghanistan to hold a presidential election Aug. 20.

President Obama has declared the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan the main security threat facing the United States.

The U.S. has sent 8,500 Marines to Helmand province in the last two months, the largest wave of a buildup of forces that will see the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan rise to 68,000 by year's end, up from 32,000 at the beginning of the year.

"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.

Taliban attacks are at their highest levels since the Islamic fundamentalist regime was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001 after refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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