U.S. and British forces have been conducting shaping operations, ground and helicopter attacks, in the surrounding area for weeks. U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets on this farm town of 80,000 to convince residents and Taliban to leave before the coalition troops attack.
According to Londons Sunday Times, U.S. and British special forces have also been carrying out assassinations of Taliban leaders in the town. U.S. commanders say that a large Afghan army contingent will join the offensive.
Those with means are leaving the area. Lots of aircraft were flying over and lots of forces were moving back and forth, Shir Ali Khan told Agence France-Presse, after fleeing to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, with 25 relatives. There are still lots of people left who cant leave, who have nowhere to go, he said.
In a December offensive that helped pave the way for the operation against Marjah, 1,000 U.S. marines with British and Afghan support took over Now Zad in Helmand with little resistance from Taliban insurgents. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, a British commander, told the Daily Telegraph of London that 15,000 troops are joining the assault on Marjah.
A large number of U.S. marines bolstered the U.S. war in Helmand over the last year. Another 9,000 are expected as part of the 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan ordered by President Obama in December.
Operations in Pakistan
While extending its control in formerly Taliban areas in Afghanistan, Washington is also stepping up its operations in Pakistan.
The Internet-based Long War Journal says there were 36 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan in 2008, 53 in 2009, and 11 in just the first month of 2010. A central leader of the Pakistani Taliban, reportedly died of injuries inflicted from a drone attack in January.
In one sign of deepening U.S. involvement in Pakistan, three U.S. troops were killed by a car bomb while traveling with a Pakistan military convoy February 3. The three were part of a special forces group of 80 training Pakistani Frontier Corps paramilitaries.
In a February 7 column, Washington Post assistant editor David Ignatius wrote, The key to Kabul lies in Islamabad, Adm. Mike Mullen likes to say, meaning that success in Afghanistan will be impossible without Pakistans help. But, Ignatius adds, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also knows the key to Islamabad lies in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
Washington is pushing for the Pakistani and Indian governments to come to an agreement to calm their decades-long disputes. Some 100,000 Pakistani troops have been moved from the border with India and used in offensives against Taliban forces in Swat and South Waziristan. The Indian government says it has removed 30,000 troops from the border.
During a NATO conference in Istanbul, U.S. general Stanley McChrystal told reporters, I think we made significant progress in setting conditions in 2009, a departure from previous assessments that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating.
Washington is still having difficulty keeping its erstwhile allies on board. Japanese naval vessels returned home from the Indian Ocean February 6, ending their eight-year refueling mission of coalition ships.
And some NATO members, instead of sending more troops to bolster the U.S. war as Washington has asked, are shifting soldiers from combat positions to training Afghan forces.
In previous offensives, Taliban fighters returned after U.S. and coalition troops left. With the increase in U.S. troops, Washington is planning to hold on to the areas they occupy.
U.S., allies out of Afghanistan!
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