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Strike of the Sword

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 3, 2009 01:42 PM

Keep our Marines in your prayers as head off for the holiday weekend. Freedom is not free. Via AHN, the latest on the surge in Afghanistan:

One American Marine has been killed as U.S. and Afghan forces on Friday continued their massive offensive deeper into Helmand River valley. The assault, the first major Afghan operation by the Obama administration, is part of an overall effort to secure militant strongholds ahead of Afghanistan’s national elections next month.

Nearly 4,000 Marines and about 600 Afghan soldiers are expanding their sweep of southern Afghanistan, securing the Garmsir, Nawa, and Rig districts.

One Marine has died in action and several others wounded in the offensive. No civilian casualties have been reported, according to the Pentagon, and U.S. and Afghan forces have refrained from using artillery and other indirect fire weapons. No air strikes were conducted, but the 82nd Airborne Division Combat Brigade provided aviation support.

Called Operation Khanjar or Strike of the Sword, the operation was launched on Thursday, two days after American forces withdrew from the cities of Iraq, and less than two months before Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential elections.

Similar NATO operations are underway in other parts of Helmand and Kandahar, such as the British led Operation Panchai Palang launched last week.

Over 90 percent of Afghanistan’s opium is harvested in Helmand, where militants support their activities from one of the world’s largest poppy fields. Most of the crop is made into black tar opium and then smuggled out of the country to be processed into heroin. The province’s opium economy constitute half of miltant funding, according to the Pentagon.

“Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, said in a statement. “The Taliban offer no future, no hope, and we will work to provide immediate security gains to the local citizens of the Helmand River Valley.”

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Related reporting from Matt Sanchez in Afghanistan:

In a Class By Themselves: It’s hard to imagine what Americans back home are willing to risk their lives for, but here in Afghanistan no imagination is needed.

‘Incorruptible’ Commandos Sign of Hope for Afghanistan’s Future

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