The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has launched a massive combat and reconstruction operation in the country's southern provinces. Officials say thousands of troops are sweeping through the Taleban's traditional stronghold, hoping to isolate the insurgents and help restore order to local communities.
It is the coalition's largest operation in more than four years: an estimated 11,000 soldiers in four southern provinces, including Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul and Kandahar.
U.S. military spokesman Colonel Tom Collins briefed reporters Wednesday in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "Over the next month, coalition and Afghan national security forces will be conducting Operation Mountain Thrust," he said. "This operation will attack Taleban extremists in the areas from which they are currently operating."
More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers are taking part in the operation alongside British, Canadian, and Afghan forces.
The operation started last month, but U.S. officials say the pace and scale of coalition attacks is expected to rise sharply in the next few days as the troops spread out and target Taleban hideouts.
The military push comes as Taleban insurgents continue their own, so-called, summer offensive, launching dozens of deadly attacks throughout the country.
It has been the insurgents' strongest show of force since the radical Islamic Taleban regime was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001 for its ties to the al-Qaida terror network.
The major fighting has been in the South, the Taleban's traditional stronghold. Afghan officials say more than 500 people, mostly militants, have been killed there in the past month.
The violence is fueling widespread concerns that the U.S.-backed central government could lose control of the entire area.
Colonel Collins says the latest coalition operation is meant, at least in part, to help restore the public's confidence in the Afghan government. "Operation Mountain Thrust is not about just killing and capturing extremists," he said. "It is very much about establishing the conditions where the government can extend its authority into areas where it does not currently have a presence."
He says humanitarian assistance and reconstruction projects will be a major component of the operation.
The U.S. military has distributed millions of dollars throughout the country to help build new roads, schools and medical clinics and generate greater support for counterinsurgency operations.