Marines ready for action

CAMP LEATHERNECK (Afghanistan) – A NEW wave of US Marines sent to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama to turn the table on Taliban insurgents is in position and ready for action, the military has said.

About 10,000 fighters of Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade have arrived in Helmand, an opium-growing southern province where the Taliban have widespread power despite being ousted from government by US-led forces in 2001.

A total of 17,000 US troops and 4,000 military trainers have been pledged for Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s new strategy to defeat the Islamist Taliban, who have been gaining in strength over the past few years.

A Combat Aviation Brigade was the first to deploy, moving into the southern province of Kandahar by mid-May. A Stryker Brigade Combat Team is also heading in to complete the fighting reinforcements.

Camp Leatherneck is a collection of tents and cabins that has sprung out of the flat desert of central Helmand to accommodate Marines, who are at the spearhead of what has been dubbed the ‘Afghanistan surge’.

But the Marines’ commander rejected the surge tag, saying the influx was not an attempt to replicate the successes of the 2007-08 surge of US troops into Iraq.

The plan combines the ‘hard power’ of boosted US troop numbers with a major effort to improve the Afghan army and police force, and an emphasis on neighbouring Pakistan’s role in region.

The Marines in Helmand are expected to move south in the coming weeks ahead of presidential elections due to be held on August 20.

Major General Mart de Kruif, who oversees more than 30,000 international troops, said the force was ‘now entering a new stage, in which we will have the operational initiatives on our side and maintain it’.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said insurgent-initiated attacks from January to May this year across Afghanistan were about 60 per cent higher than those for the same period last year. — AFP

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