U.S. and allied commanders in Afghanistan are preparing for the biggest battle of the eight-year war, knowing that its outcome will reveal the chances of success for the revamped Afghan strategy of General Obama.
About 20,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops will soon storm Marja, the Taliban's final redoubt in the southern province of Helmand. A town of 80,000, Marja has for years been a den of narcotics traffickers and insurgents, serving as a launching pad for roadside bombs and suicide attacks. If the U.S. and its allies succeed in driving out the Taliban - and, perhaps more importantly, bring a measure of security to Marja - U.S. officials believe it will mark a turning point in the war.
The battle has actually been under way for several weeks, as Afghan and Western forces have announced their plans to the local population while moving into position. Pentagon officials say this unusually public "shaping" of the battlefield has one key goal: while hundreds of hard-core Taliban are hunkering down for a fight, many more, along with thousands of residents, have fled Marja until the dust settles. That should limit civilian casualties and, they hope, lure some lukewarm Taliban over to the government side. "We're not interested in how many Taliban we kill," Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S., commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday. "We'd much rather have them see the inevitability that things are changing and just accept that." "For three years, out of key with his time,He strove to resuscitate the dead artOf poetry."Ezra PoundPantagruellaof Skeleton Girls