By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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 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.