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Marines push against Taliban

July 04, 2009|Associated Press

NAWA, AFGHANISTAN — U.S. Marines pushed deeper into Taliban-held areas of southern Afghanistan on Friday, seeking to cut insurgent supply lines and win over town elders on the second day of the biggest U.S. military operation here since the invasion of 2001.

The 4,000-strong U.S. force met little resistance as troops fanned out into villages in southern Helmand province. One Marine had been killed and several others were wounded the day before, U.S. officials said.

The Marines said they could see militants using flashlights late Thursday to signal one another about American troop movements.

The U.S. operation will test the Obama administration's new strategy of holding territory to let the Afghan government establish a presence in rural areas where Taliban influence is strong.

As Operation Khanjar (Strike of the Sword) entered its second day, Marines took control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of the Rig district, said military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier.

He said the goal of the Helmand operation was not simply to kill Taliban fighters but to win over the local population -- a difficult task in a region where foreigners are viewed with suspicion.

The Marines also hope to cut the routes used by militants to funnel weapons, ammunition and fighters from Pakistan to the Taliban, which has mounted an increasingly violent insurgency since its hard-line Islamist government was toppled in late 2001.

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