KABUL, Afghanistan (RPRN) 7/02/2009–About 4,000 U.S. Marines descended on Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan Thursday, launching the first major operation under U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy to stabilize the country. The U.S. troops and about 650 Afghan troops and police pushed into the lower Helmand River valley, the heart of the Taliban insurgency, during the pre-dawn hours. Some troops rolled into designated towns and villages in armored convoys while others descended from helicopters.
The U.S. military says the troops’ mission is to flush out insurgents and maintain security ahead of presidential elections on August 20.
Pakistan’s army says it has deployed troops along the border to intercept militants fleeing the U.S.-led offensive called “Operation Khanjar” or “Strike of the Sword.”
Separately Thursday, a U.S. military officials said insurgents captured a U.S. soldier in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. No other details were released.
Commenting the new offensive in southern Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said troops will build outposts and live among the people in poppy producing region.
Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province is the main producer of Afghan opium, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s supply. U.S. officials say the opium trade in Afghanistan provides part of the Taliban’s funding.
The U.S.-led offensive is the largest and fastest-moving operation under Mr. Obama’s revamped strategy in Afghanistan.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
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