Cautious optimism in Helmand province

July 16, 2009 at 3:39 PM

WASHINGTON, July 16 (UPI) -- The success of the mission in Afghanistan is encouraging despite modest setbacks as the military surge unfolds, the U.S. Defense Department said.

Around 4,000 Marines and 650 Afghan soldiers have descended on the southern Afghan province of Helmand in support of Operation Strike of the Sword, meant to take control over Taliban-held areas.

Geoff Morrell, the press secretary for the Defense Department, expressed his concerns over the "alarming rate" at which U.S. and British forces were lost in combat, calling July "an extraordinarily difficult month" for the troops in Afghanistan.

Despite the setbacks, however, Morrell said coalition forces have encountered little resistance in Helmand from Taliban forces.

The new U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan calls for "clear, hold and build" tactics in line with the latest counterinsurgency doctrines, which Morrell said required patience.

"We are committed, for the long run, to maintain a force presence in as many populated areas as possible to protect the population from the Taliban and other terrorists, and to help the Afghan government be able to exert itself," he said.

The U.S. military plans to deploy another brigade to Afghanistan later this year to help train Afghan forces as strategists complain Afghan problems require Afghan solutions.

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