U.S., Afghans plan assault on Taliban-held area

February 04, 2010

WASHINGTONCHICAGOBEIJINGTEHRAN, Iran — U.S. Marines and the Afghan army plan a major assault on Taliban fighters in Marja, the last main community under the militants' control in what had been a largely lawless area of the Helmand River Valley, a top Marine said Wednesday. "We are going to gain control," Col. George "Slam" Amland told reporters. "We are going to alter the ecosystem considerably." Amland, deputy commander of Marine forces in southern Afghanistan, would not discuss the timing of the assault or how many thousands of troops would be involved. But the attack, he said, would involve Marine units that were part of the troop buildup authorized by President Barack Obama in December. The operation also will show how the Afghan army is growing in competency, he predicted. Marine and NATO leaders want sprawling Helmand province to be a showpiece of the "clear, hold, build and transition" counterinsurgency strategy, in which Taliban fighters are forced out of a region and then a "civilian surge" begins to rebuild war-ravaged communities and bolster confidence among Afghan villagers in their provincial and national governments.

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