With the countdown underway ahead of one of the biggest operations in the eight-year long Afghan war, the British in Helmand province are gearing up for what is expected to be a violent offensive.
Alongside Afghan and US troops, the objective is to kick the Taliban out of their last remaining urban stronghold, Marjah, and then hold the town and help in its development.
It is the first test for the fresh troops ordered into the country by President Obama and their brief is simple: take Marjah and nearby Nad Ali and hold them “forever”, in the words of the local British commander Brigadier James Cowan.
Local villagers report the Taliban is massing in the area to fight it out, but many are not hanging around to see the action. That in part is posing a problem for the allies.
This offensive is designed to win hearts and minds, and going in with the troops in the first wave are supposed to be dozens of development workers. The very people they want to talk to, those who do not support the Taliban and just want to get on with their lives, will not be there. However, it is unknown just how many militants are prepared to resist the massive show of force.
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