Marines move into Helmand-Pakistan set to stop fleeing Taliban
Under the cover of darkness, 4000 U.S. Marines and 650 Afghanistan National Army troops deployed into Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan, in a heliborne assault, last night.
This is the first major operation under the Obama Administration. Obama has made Afghanistan a priority.
In the past the Taliban were able to move almost freely into Pakistan and reconstitute in the mountainous tribal areas. Washington wants Pakistan to to crack down on insurgents, which have been blamed for attacking US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Helmand Province has provided funding for the Taliban with its poppy crop. This operation is labelled as the endgame for Afghanistan.
Pakistan has mustered troops along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in an effort to deny insurgents from escaping into Pakistan. If successful, this could indeed be the endgame.
US troops moved into the village of Nawa, about 30 km South of Helmands capitol Lashkar Gah. There were reports of some exchange of gun fire. It appears though that the insurgents, for the most part, were taken by surprise.
The ultimate aim of this operation, which has been dubbed Kanjar, "Strike of the Sword", is to provide a safe and secure environment in that area. This is General McChrystal's first test as the Commander and the results of this operation will give an indication of the success of the new Afghanistan strategy.
U.S. General Stanley McChrystal assumed command of international forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan last month and is spearheading new counterinsurgency tactics aimed at better protecting civilians.
Hellmand Province was the Area of Responsibilities of British troops. This Operation is aimed at taking back control of the Province from the Taliban.
Canadian troops in Afghanistan are watching the outcome of this operation in a neighboring province. Canadians operate in Khandahar Province.
Update: Fox News reports that one soldier has been killed in this operation so far.
There is also another soldier missing that apparently walked off Base with three Afghanistan civilians. It is not clear if he is a deserter or was kidnapped. An Afghanistan website reports that the soldier was drunk. This is unconfirmed. US officials will not comment only that it is very unusual for a soldier to walk off an observation post by himself.
Washington wants Pakistan to crack down on militants based on its side of the border, blamed for launching attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S. operation is being labelled as a possible "end game of the war in Afghanistan," said CBC correspondent James Murray.
"There is a strong belief here that if the Taliban can be beaten and beaten back in Helmand province they can be beaten almost entirely if it's possible at all here in Afghanistan," Murray said.
Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, about 30 kilometres south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.
There were reports of gunfire being exchanged, helicopters firing rockets and rocket-propelled grenades being launched from houses as the sun came up in the region.