The offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday local time (4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 2030 GMT Wednesday) in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and the world's largest opium poppy producing area. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.
Officials described the operation, dubbed Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine offensive since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines and 650 Afghan forces. British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar provinces.
Image: US soldiers from 1st Infantry Division set up a 120mm mortar in Nishagam, in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on April 11, 2009. AFPText: AP