Wednesday, August 12, 2009

US, Afghan troops launch operation to protect vote

US Marines and Afghan soldiers launched an operation early Wednesday against insurgents in Afghanistan's troubled south aimed at preventing disruptions to upcoming elections, the Marines said.

Operation Eastern Resolve II deployed 400 Marines and sailors and 100 Afghan soldiers to a Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan.

In a statement from Camp Leatherneck, in central Helmand, he said the aim of the mission in Naw Zad district was to prevent Taliban fighters from acting on threats to disrupt presidential and provincial council elections next week.

Afghanistan's second presidential election is due to take place on August 20 amid Taliban threats to prevent voters getting to polling booths and widespread fears of suicide attacks.

"Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces," Nicholson said.

"They are the ones in charge of these elections. Our job is to make sure they have the security to do their job."

Helmand is one of the world's main poppy-producing regions and a route for Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan to join the insurgency.

International forces have been operating in the province's centre and south in recent months in an effort to push out Taliban forces and secure populated areas of the vast region ahead of the elections.

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