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Pentagon Says Operations to Clear Taliban Will Expand

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman says there will be more operations like the one launched in southern Afghanistan to secure a Taliban-controlled district in Helmand Province, and that coalition and Afghan forces will hold such areas after they drive out the insurgent forces.

Defense Department Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the operation in Nawzad District was timed to clear the area of insurgents before next Thursday's Afghan presidential election.

"U.S. forces along with our Afghan partners and the rest of the coalition that is there are trying to ensure that as we run up to the election that Afghans are going to have the freedom of movement to go to the polling places and be able to cast their vote, and to do it in a secure and unfettered manner," he said. "An operation like this contributes to that goal."

Whitman says there will be more such operations in the coming days, but they will not stop after the election.

"These types of operations you are going to see continue up until the elections, and after the elections," said Whitman. "This is a sustained effort that will be ongoing throughout the country."

The operation in Nawzad, involving 400 U.S. troops and 100 Afghan soldiers, is part of a larger operation by mostly U.S. marines in Helmand Province. The offensives are part of the new strategy announced in March by President Barack Obama, and being implemented by his new commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal. The strategy calls for international and Afghan troops to secure more parts of the country, and then to stay in those areas to keep the Taliban out and allow the Afghan government to establish its authority and provide services.

"You are well aware of the strategies that are being employed, and the importance of once securing an area of being able to hold that area and allow the type of governance process to take root so that Taliban activity, insurgent activity, is not allowed to be able to resurface," said Whitman.

It is a huge task, particularly in a country with a widely dispersed population and large areas of rough terrain. Several civilian experts called in to advise General McChrystal say he needs more troops, even beyond the near doubling already authorized and mostly already in place.

But officials say the general has not yet decided whether to ask for more troops. His 60-day assessment is expected to be delivered to Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon, but officials say it will likely not be made public until September.