NAWZAD, Afghanistan, Aug 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Marines and Afghan officials hoisted the Afghan flag over a formerly Taliban-held district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday, signalling success in their latest advance days before a presidential election.
The 10,000 Marines in the Taliban’s opium-producing heartland of Helmand province are the largest wave of reinforcements sent by President Barack Obama this year as part of an escalation strategy designed to turn the tide in the 8-year-old war.
They have moved quickly into formerly Taliban-held areas, part of an effort to replicate the tactics used in Iraq of establishing a strong presence in small bases in towns and villages in Helmand.
Last week, 400 Marines, with 100 Afghan troops, launched operation Eastern Resolve II in the Nawzad district, one of about 10 districts of Afghanistan considered to be under Taliban rule.
“We have succeeded in regaining the district after years of Taliban control,” provincial governor Gulab Mangal said at a flag-raising ceremony in Nawzad, introducing a new district chief for the area. “We will make sure that our Afghan troops, with international forces, hold the ground and provide security.”
The district centre, high in the mountains in the northwest of Helmand, is all but completely destroyed after years of fighting — first by British forces and more recently by U.S. Marines — against Taliban fighters.
Much of the population has fled, and only about 100 people were on hand to attend a muted flag-raising ceremony. All shops and businesses in the town were closed, their walls pock-marked with bullets and buildings wrecked.