Marines Commence Counter-Insurgency Push In Southern Afghanistan

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have launched a major counter-insurgency mission in the country's Helmand Province, according to information released today by the Marines.

The operation is being conducted by about 4,000 Marines and U.S. Navy sailors along with 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces. Two aviation brigades are also supporting the mission.

The goal of the operation, dubbed Operation Khanjar ("Strike of the Sword") is "to provide security for population centers along the Helmand River valley and connect local citizens with their legitimate government while establishing stable and secure conditions for national elections scheduled for August," according to a Marines press release.

"This is the start of the first big counter-insurgency operation launched by the Marines since they went into the south as part of the buildup ordered by President Obama," noted CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin. "It's not a search-and-destroy operation designed to clear out Taliban strongholds. Instead, it's a push into the villages and towns of Helmand province to protect the local population from the Taliban."

"The commanding general of the Marines says what makes this different from previous operations is its size and the fact that the Marines intend to stay," Martin said.