Aljazeera.Net - US launches Afghanistan offensive
Hundreds of American marines and Afghan special forces have trekked into remote Afghan mountains to retake a valley controlled by rebels suspected of ambushing a team of US commandos and shooting down a special forces helicopter.
The major offensive in eastern Kunar province, near the border with Pakistan, is the biggest yet against those believed responsible for the twin attacks on 28 June, the deadliest blow to American forces in Afghanistan since ousting the Taliban in 2001.
Three members of a four-man Navy SEAL team were killed in the ambush, and all 16 troops on board the Chinook helicopter that was sent to rescue them died when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Hundreds of Afghan rebels, as well as militants from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya, are thought to be hiding in Kunar's Korengal Valley and are intent on disrupting the elections, according to US military and Afghan special forces commanders in the area.
The US believes the rebels are behind the downing of a Chinook "We want them running for their lives way up in the hills where they can't attack polling stations," said Captain John Moshane, of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based in Hawaii. "We want to isolate them from the community."
US and Afghan forces started moving into position at one end of the valley on Thursday, about 190km east of the capital Kabul. They were digging mortar and machine-gun pits for a temporary resupply base in the middle of a corn field near Kandagal, a village of about 100 farmers and their families.
The move sparked an immediate response from the rebels, who attacked a nearby US base and a convoy of troops with rockets, but they all missed.
Two week operation
American and Afghan troops started hiking into the rugged mountains on Friday and Saturday, as A-10 attack aircraft circled above. Many of the teams led lines of donkeys laden with food and water. The operation was expected to last at least two weeks, Moshane said.
There are concerns rebels are seeking to disrupt polls. One of the main objectives is breaking up a network of fighters led by a local Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, also known as Ismail, who is believed to be responsible for the 28 June attacks, said Kirimat Tanhah, a commander in the US-trained and funded Afghan Special Forces.
Shah is suspected of having ties to al-Qaida fighters in Pakistan, he said.