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Landmark coalition offensive launched in Afghanistan

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Leaflets were dropped into Marja in preparation for the attack.
Image: US Army.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has launched a large-scale siege of the town of Marja, currently held by Taliban insurgents. The attacking forces consist of Afghan, American, British, and Canadian troops.

Operation Moshtarak marks the largest Afghan-ISAF joint offensive to-date. The aim of the operation is to wrest control of the town in Helmand Province from Taliban forces.

The operation was announced several days in advance in order to allow the 80,000 civilians in the town an opportunity to leave, or prepare for the siege. Reports indicate over 10,000 citizens subsequently left and the local government is preparing shelter for them in nearby towns. This strategy is hoped to minimise civilian casualties; however, the side-effect is giving Taliban defenders time to prepare.

15,000 troops are involved in the operation, while the Taliban defense is believed to consist of between 1,000 and 2,000 militants. The attack was launched with an initial wave of over 4,000 US Marines, 1,500 from the Afghan Army plus 300 US Army soldiers flying into the city by helicopter at about 2am local time (2130 UTC).

Operation Moshtarak is the first major operation in Afghanistan since the United States sent 30,000 reinforcements in late December. If successful, ISAF hopes it may mark a turning point in the conflict in Helmand, as Marja provides a base of operations for key Taliban figures in the province. Upon securing the town, NATO hopes to quickly restore public service and provide alternative livelihoods for the town's opium farmers — a bid to win over the population and prevent Taliban resurgence in the area.


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