U.S. forces settle into Afghan Taliban heartland

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Afghan National Police commander chief of police Musa Qala Koka meets with U.S. Marine Corps (Photo Chad J. Pulliam, 2008).
Marines in Helmand province (Photo Alex C. Guerra, 2008).

The United States-led push to confront militants and win-over local Afghans in the Taliban-controlled south continued Friday, with troops moving into more remote villages.

Some 4,000 U.S. Marines and several hundred Afghan forces are taking up positions in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province, a remote militant stronghold that has largely resisted central government control.

Troops reportedly met only isolated pockets of resistance as they set up outposts and sought out local civilian leaders. The operation is aimed at cutting off Taliban supply lines, winning over locals who are sympathetic to the militants and maintaining security for the August presidential elections.

The U.S. military says one Marine has been killed and several others wounded in the offensive.

In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials say the military is using all available resources to find an American soldier believed to have been captured by militants in Paktika Province on Tuesday.

The offensive in the south marks the first major operation under U.S. President Barack Obama's revamped strategy to defeat an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan has re-deployed some of its troops to the border with Afghanistan to stop insurgents who may be fleeing the offensive in Helmand Province.