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US, Afghan Forces Launch Offensive into Helmand River Valley: Operation Khanjar



--- Quote ---U.S., Afghan Forces Launch Offensive Into Taliban Stronghold

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 2, 2009 – Thousands of American servicemembers and hundreds of Afghan soldiers launched Operation Khanjar today to provide security to the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan.

The operation's name translates in English to "Strike of the Sword."

Some 4,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers and 650 Afghan soldiers launched nearly simultaneous air and ground assaults all along the river. One Marine was killed and several others were wounded in early fighting, officials said.

The forces, under the command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, are entering areas where few – if any – coalition forces have been in the past. Helmand province is a stronghold of the Taliban, and the coalition mission is to secure the area and make it safe for Afghans to live without the threats of militant groups.

“The operation in Nawa is going to be very effective,” Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal said. “The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favorable background and take their lives forward in peace.”

The troops are from the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Marine Aircraft Group 40 and Task Force Pegasus -- the 82nd Airborne Division Combat Aviation Brigade -- provided aviation support.

This is the first operation to use the troops President Barack Obama ordered to the area after taking office.

The operation is part of an overall NATO effort in to extend security to the Afghan people in southern Afghanistan. Similar operations are under way in other parts of Helmand and in Kandahar province, including the British-led Operation Panchai Palang, which began last week.

The effort is designed to connect local Afghans with their legitimate government while establishing stable and secure conditions for national elections scheduled for August, as well as enhanced security for the future, officials said.

“What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the brigade commander.

Officials said the focus remains true to counterinsurgency doctrine: ensuring the safety, security and stability of the area. Once secure, the British-run Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah, working with Afghan government officials, will follow up security gains with economic and governance projects.

“The Taliban offer no future, no hope, and we will work to provide immediate security gains to the local citizens of the Helmand River Valley,” Nicholson said in a written statement.


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Follow-up story published the next day:

--- Quote ---Marines, Afghans Establish Bases in Helmand

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 – U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces are continuing Operation Khanjar in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, NATO officials said today.

Almost 4,000 personnel from the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan have moved into cities and towns along the Helmand River and are digging in for the long haul.

The addition of nearly 22,000 American personnel in Afghanistan will allow the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to institute a “clear, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy. Before, small numbers of coalition forces would enter an area and clear it of Taliban, but the shortage of forces meant that when they pulled out, the Taliban flowed back in.

Now, Marines and Afghan personnel are clearing the region of Taliban and establishing bases among the people. They will stay to ensure the Taliban or other terrorist groups do not move back in.

The strategy calls for experts to move into the region and work with local residents to build the economy and governance.

The forces are operating in the districts of Nawa and Garmsir in central Helmand province. The Marines are operating as far south as the vicinity of Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district in the region of the Helmand River valley known as “The Fishhook.”

The effort is part of a larger strategy in Regional Command South. British and Afghan forces also are operating in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Few coalition or Afghan government forces have been in Helmand province. It is a center for the poppy trade, and has been a safe haven for the Taliban who used violence and other methods to intimidate the people.

“The Marines and Afghan forces are continuing to patrol and have begun engaging with key leaders in the districts to better understand the concerns and needs of Afghans in the area,” said Marine Corps Capt. Bill Pelletier, a spokesman for the command. “Once security is established, civil affairs personnel and other nongovernmental organizations and agencies will begin establishing programs aimed at building long-term governance and development throughout the Helmand River valley.”

One Marine has been killed in action, and several others have been injured or wounded since the operation began. Officials in Kabul said the Taliban have not directly confronted the massive operation, but rather are melting into the populace.

Also, an Afghan man was wounded when he failed to heed warnings to halt as he approached a Marine position south of Garmsir. No need has arisen for close-air support, officials said.


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