One Marine was killed and several others injured or wounded on Thursday, after 4,000 Marines flooded into the opium-producing province of Helmand, in the largest military operation since the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, reported the Associated Press.
Military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier said so far, there has been little resistance from the Taliban. The main goal of the operation is not just to kill Taliban fighters, he said, but to win over the local population.
“We are not worried about the Taliban, we are not focused on them. We are focused on the people,” said Pelletier, according to the AP. “It is important to engage with the key leaders, hear what they need most and what are their priorities.”
As the operation entered its second day, the units secured control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser, and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, said Pelletier.
“They waited for the local and village elders,” outside Khan Neshin and “with their permission they went in and now are engaged in talks,” he said, quoted the AP.
In addition, hundreds of British troops have key seized canal crossings in a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, military officials said on Friday.
Taking ground from the Taliban in Afghanistan has always proved easy, but keeping it and ensuring the government’s presence has been the hard part. The military challenges are compounded by the fact that the area is the world’s largest producer of opium, and drug profits feed the insurgency and corrupt government officials.
Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s production of opium, and Helmand alone is responsible for about half that amount, according to the AP.
The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections in August and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by the end of the year.