By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 12, 2009 - Hours into the new Operation Eastern Resolve II in Afghanistan's Helmand province, defense officials report that U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers are confronting "some resistance" as they work to secure the area for the Aug. 20 elections. The Marines and Afghan soldiers launched the offensive earlier today in Helmand province's Now Zad district. Much of the operation is centered on Dahaneh, a Taliban-held southern Afghanistan town, and the surrounding mountains.
The mission was ordered to disrupt insurgent violence and intimidation campaigns and provide freedom of movement for Afghans to vote in upcoming provincial and national elections, military officials at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan reported.
About 100 Afghan National Army soldiers and 400 Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, are conducting the operation. Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 40 provided helicopter lift and other aviation support for the mission.
The operation is proceeding as planned, and forces have confronted some opposition, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. No casualty information is available, he said. Marine officials later reported that casualtiers are "very light."
The mission is representative of those planned up to and after the Afghan elections. "This is a sustained effort that will be ongoing throughout the country," Whitman said.
The upcoming elections will be the first the Afghans have organized, run and administered since the 1970s.
"Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces. They are the ones in charge of these elections. Our job is to make sure they have the security to do their job," said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan.
Coalition forces are working to secure as much of Afghanistan as possible in the days leading up to the Aug. 20 national elections, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters yesterday.
"Keep in mind, we are dealing with an enemy here that is doing everything in its power to discourage Afghans from executing their constitutional right to head to the polls – through intimidation, through violence," he said. "We are trying to make sure that is minimized, if not eliminated."
The Regional Command South area, which includes Helmand province, is particularly challenging, Morrell said. He credited a stronger coalition presence and expanded operations such as today's Operation Eastern Resolve II with laying conditions so more polling places than initially expected will be able to open.
Nicholson emphasized today that the coalition has no stake in which candidates win the election. "While we encourage every Afghan to exercise his right to vote, who he or she votes for is none of our business," he said.
"It is our wish to see that these elections are as credible, secure and inclusive as possible, that they result in a legitimate outcome, [and] that the Afghan people and the world recognize [them] as the will of the Afghan people," Morrell said yesterday.