The U.S. military in Afghanistan launched a major offensive in
Taliban-controlled parts of southern Afghanistan Thursday, the first
such operation under U.S. President Barack Obama's revamped strategy to
defeat an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency.
of U.S. Marines and hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police landed deep
inside southern Helmand province under the cover of darkness in the
early hours of Thursday, marking the beginning of operation Khanjar, or
"Strike of the Sword."
"The combined U.S. and Afghan mission
is to provide security for population centers along the Helmand river
valley and to connect local citizens with their legitimate government
while establishing stable and secure conditions for national elections
scheduled in August as well as to enhance security in the future," said
Sergeant Charles Marsh, a spokesman for the U.S. led coalition.
operation is the first major military offensive since President Barack
Obama unveiled his new war strategy for Afghanistan. It involved
nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines and 650 Afghan soldiers who entered
Helmand by air and ground transport. Last week, about 500 British
troops led a mission to flush out militants in the province, a longtime
Taliban stronghold and the top opium producing region in the country.
The U.S. military says once Helmand is free of insurgents, Afghan security forces will take over.
Kamminga is senior policy analyst at the International Council on
Security and Development. He says U.S. and NATO forces have tried
repeatedly to grab and hold territory in Helmand province. Kamminga is
doubtful this new effort, while bigger and bolder, will be successful
without a plan to fulfill the needs of the local population.
not only a matter of sending these troops in and keeping them in
place. It's really what these military troops do when the fighting is
over, basically when they have had the first successes against the
Taliban insurgency. Then it's really important that the military also
is involved in development, humanitarian aid, really trying to build
this hearts and minds strategy that we've been talking about for so
many years now. But it really hasn't been implemented successfully on
the ground," he said.
One of President Obama's key goals in
Afghanistan is to rebuild trust among local residents by avoiding
civilian deaths, an extremely sensitive issue that has plagued
international forces in Afghanistan who rely heavily on airstrikes to
The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan,
General Stanley McChrystal, has said protecting Afghan civilians is a
top priority under the revamped strategy to defeat an increasingly
violent Taliban movement.
"Each of us must execute our
mission with the realization that displaying respect, cultural
sensitivity, accountability and transparency are essential in gaining
the trust of the Afghan people. If we gain that trust, we cannot lose.
If we lose that trust, we cannot win," he said.
new war strategy also includes the deployment of an additional 21,000
U.S. troops and trainers. By the end of this year, the U.S. force in
Afghanistan is expected to more than double to an estimated 68,000.
is strategic, lying along the Pakistan border, where the illicit opium
trade flourishes and fighters and weapons move easily across the porous
Thursday's operation immediately caused concern in
Pakistan. Hours after it began, the Pakistani military said it had
re-deployed some of its troops to block militants who are on the run as
a result of the Helmand offensive.