Thousands of US Marines stormed deep into Taliban territory in an Afghan river valley yesterday, launching the biggest military offensive of US President Barack Obama’s presidency.
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.
US Marines and Afghan troops captured a remote southern district from the Taliban yesterday in one of the first successes of the major operation in militant strongholds, commanders said.
The soldiers took Khanishin district in the south of Helmand Province with no resistance and hoisted the Afghan flag hours just after they launched Operation Khanjar, they said.
“The district is in total control of the government. The enemies have fled,” Afghan army corps commander General Shair Mohammad Zazai said.
Operation Khanjar involves nearly 4,000 US Marines and about 650 Afghan security forces in a push to secure parts of Helmand before Aug. 20 presidential elections.
It is the US Marines’ second-largest operation after one that took back the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.