US Marines launch major new offensive in Afghanistan
About 4,000 soldiers are flooding into the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province in the first test of new US strategy.
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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 mounting a series of hunt-and-kill missions against the insurgents.
"We're doing this very differently," Nicholson said to his senior officers a few hours before the mission began. "We're going to be with the people. We're not going to drive to work. We're going to walk to work."
Why the focus on Helmand Province? Reuters reports the province produces the lion's share of Afghanistan's opium crop, which in turn funds the Taliban insurgency.
The province is some 365 miles southwest of the capital Kabul (see a NATO map here). British and other NATO forces have for three years fought the Taliban in this province, but have lacked sufficient numbers to hold territory for long. Reuters reports:
In swiftly seizing the valley, commanders hope to accomplish within hours what overstretched NATO troops had failed to achieve over several years.
The Marines are saying their focus is "getting the government back on its feet." Okay. That's been our focus since 2002. What are they doing about that now that is any different? And can the Marines do that without a significant amount of civilian support?