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New U.S. Marines Lead Assault in Helmand

As part of the promised spring deployment of an additional 3,200 U.S. marines to Afghanistan, the U.S. military launched a major assault in Helmand province in conjunction with British troops.

The new push comes in response to a spike in violence in 2007. A U.N. report noted a sharp increase in violence with 566 incidents a month and over 130 attacks on humanitarian aid workers alone. The report identified 10 % of the country as inaccessible to international aid organizations.

In response to the rising violence, the United States has called for a renewed commitment from NATO countries and has redeployed an additional contingent of Marines to retake the 10 % of Afghanistan deemed outside of Kabul’s control. Marines involved in this mission are a part of the 2,300 man 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit which recently arrived in the country from the United States. Many of the Marines are veterans of the war in Iraq and the violence in Anbar province.

In Helmand, the Marines are fighting in one of the Taliban strongholds and the center of Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade. Efforts to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and licit economy have been strained by the rising instability in such key areas as the Pakistani and Iranian border regions. The U.S. hopes a renewed military commitment will bring the stability necessary for successful humanitarian and development operations.

“Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, [and] allow for the expansion of governance,” said the Marine’s commanding officer Col. Peter Petronzio.

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