US Marines and Afghan troops today launched the first offensive since the troop surge was announced, hitting Taliban communications and supply lines in Helmand province.
Soldiers were dropped by helicopter behind enemy lines in the northern end of the Now Zad Valley, scene of heavy fighting last summer.
A second, larger force pushed northward from the Marines’ Forward Operating Base in Now Zad, with engineers were forcing a corridor through minefields.
About 1,000 Marines as well as Afghan troops were taking part in the operation, known as Cobra’s Anger.
The operation began three days after President Barack Obama announced he was sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to help turn the tide against the Taliban. Europe will send an estimated 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year “with more to come,” Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced today.
Most of the new troops are expected to be sent to southern Afghanistan, including Helmand, where Taliban influence is strongest.
The new offensive aims to cut off the Taliban communication routes through Helmand and disrupt their supply lines, especially those providing explosives for the numerous lethal roadside bombs that litter the area.
“Right now, the enemy is confused and disorganised,” a US Marines spokesman said. “They’re fighting, but not too effectively.”
He said insurgents were caught off guard by the early morning air assault.