US launches major Afghan assault

US launches major Afghan assault

The Marines say Operation Khanjar, or Strike of the Sword, will be decisive and is
intended to seize virtually the entire lower Helmand River valley, the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and the world’s biggest opium poppy producing region.

In swiftly seizing the valley and holding ground there, commanders hope to accomplish within hours what overstretched Nato troops had failed to achieve over several years, and help secure Afghanistan for an August 20 presidential election after years of stalemate.

“The intent is to go big, go strong and go fast, and by doing so we are going to save lives on both sides,” Brigadier-General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marines in southern Afghanistan, told his staff before the operation.

Violence in the Taliban-led insurgency is at its highest since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. The operation marks the first big test of Washington’s new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its allies and stabilise Afghanistan.

Soldier kidnapped
The US military said later on Thursday that a soldier had been kidnapped in southeastern Afghanistan, before the operation in Helmand began. Kidnappings by Islamist militants were common during the Iraq war but are relatively rare in Afghanistan.

A senior Taliban commander, Mullah Sangeen said the soldier was taken as a patrol walked out of its base in Paktika province.

The soldier would be held until Taliban fighters held by US forces were released, he said.
The Taliban has vowed that its thousands of fighters in the south would fight back, though only minor skirmishes were reported in the early stages.

“Thousands of Taliban mujahideen are ready to fight US troops in the operation in Helmand province,” Mullah Hayat Khan, a senior Afghan Taliban commander, said.

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