New Military Operation Seeks to Gain Control of Southern Afghanistan Ahead of Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. (RPRN) 8/12/2009–Four hundred U.S. Marines and 100 Afghan soldiers stormed into southern Afghanistan as part of a new operation to gain control of the area ahead of next week’s presidential elections.

Helicopter-borne military forces launched operation “Eastern Resolve 2” Wednesday in the Nawzad district of Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province. U.S. military officials said in a statement the goal of the operation is to make sure the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces “have the security to do their jobs.” The statement gave no details on casualties.

Taliban militants in the area have vowed to disrupt the August 20 elections with attacks on polling stations and threats against voters.

Also in southern Afghanistan, a roadside bomb wounded two Associated Press journalists who were embedded with the U.S. military. One of the journalists suffered leg and rib injuries, while the other suffered a leg wound that resulted in the loss of his foot.

AP President Tom Curley said their injuries reflect the risks that journalists encounter every day as they report from the “front lines of the most dangerous places in the world.”

Meanwhile, Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan attacked a police compound in the province of Kunduz, killing the district police chief and a guard.

The Pentagon has called on NATO allies and other countries with troops in Afghanistan to maintain their current higher troop levels even after next week’s vote.

Several allied countries have increased their troop presence in Afghanistan to help provide security for the election, but those troops are expected to go home once it is over.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he believes the elections will pass peacefully, despite the escalating violence. Mr. Karzai, who is running for re-election, also urged young people to vote.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Spc. Henry Rosenquist engages the enemy during a patrol near Combat Outpost Honaker Miracle in Konar province, Afghanistan, July 29. 2009. Rosenquist is assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Mountain Warrior. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Evan D. Marcy, courtesy of the Department of Defense.