February 8th, 2010
05:09 PM ET

Understanding Marjah

The military operation by coalition forces in Afghanistan (dubbed "Operation Moshtarak") focuses on Marjah. What's known about this town in Afghanistan?

Location: Marjah is in the volatile Helmand province in southern Afghanistan; it's an agricultural area dotted with villages.

Taliban: Marjah is the last major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province. A shadow Taliban government presides in the city and those who come in and out are forced to pay a tax to the Taliban at various checkpoints surrounding the city.

Population: The city encompasses around 80,000-100,000 people

Land: Marjah and the surrounding area holds some of the richest farmlands in Afghanistan. The fertile land is ripe for farming poppies and its absence of governance keeps the drug trade alive and strong.

February 8th, 2010
03:55 PM ET

Around the Web: Karzai wants Afghanistan security handover to begin this year

Afghanistan is prepared to begin taking over security from international forces in some parts of the war-torn nation by the end of the year, President Hamid Karzai said Sunday.

By the end of his five-year term in 2014, Karzai said, "conditions permitting ... Afghan forces will have full responsibility for security throughout the country, with international forces continuing to serve in the capacity of providing backup and assistance."

Speaking at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Karzai said he planned to build up the army and the national police to some 300,000 by 2012.

FULL POST

February 8th, 2010
01:32 PM ET

2 British soldiers killed in Sangin

Two British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on  Sunday, the British Ministry of Defence said Monday. The soldiers were on foot patrol when they died in a bomb blast in the town of Sangin on Sunday evening, a ministry statement said.

The soldiers' family members had been notified, but the ministry said it would not immediately release any additional information. The two fatalities bring the total of British deaths in Afghanistan to 255 - the same number that were killed in the Falklands conflict in 1982.

Britain and Argentina fought a brief war over the British-held islands after Argentina seized them. Britain won after about two and a half months of fighting.


Filed under: Troops
February 8th, 2010
10:31 AM ET

Worst-kept secret of the war in Afghanistan

[cnn-video url=http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/02/07/abawi.afghan.offensive.cnn]

It’s the worst kept secret of the Afghan war and is expected to be the largest NATO operation since the war began in 2001. 

In an interview last December, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson told CNN that the next major battle would be in the city of Marjah in the southern province of Helmand.

And still today, the voices are more abundant and even louder on the impending battle.

“Where else would we go?” Nicholson told reporters recently.  “It’s the only place left in the Marine's area of operations that we’re not in.”

"I think there's a certain strength in the Pashtunwali culture just from laying it out there in saying, 'Hey, we are coming. Deal with it,'" said Nicholson.

Marjah is the last major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.  The city encompasses around 100,000 people and holds some of the richest farmlands in Afghanistan.

The offensive has not yet started in full force, but British and Afghan troops have conducted air and ground
operations to prepare for it, the British Ministry of Defence has said.

Coalition military commanders have not said when the offensive will start, other than to say it will be soon.

Capturing Marjah would be an example of the strategy by Gen. Stanley McChrystal (commander of International Security Assistance Force) to focus on population centers and separate the people from the Taliban and then try to gain their trust.  FULL POST