WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Operation Moshtarak in the southern Afghan province of Helmand has moved into the holding phase of counterinsurgency operations, Pentagon officials said.
Afghan and international forces entered their 13th day of operations meant to clear Taliban and other militants in Helmand in order to prop up a new government.
Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, said operations in the Helmand city of Marja entered the holding phase as an interim government takes control.
Morrell said many Afghans are returning to their homes in Marja and markets are resuming normal activities.
Coalition forces installed Abdul Zahir Aryan as the administrator of Marja this week. The spokesman said the new government was "symbolic of where we are in this operation."
He cautioned, however, that there was still reason for caution as U.S. death tolls mount in Afghanistan.
"Although signs point to progress, it is still clearly a very dangerous situation," he said. "We're still losing troops."
Military leaders stress that Afghan forces are active in the fight alongside their international counterparts. Morrell said Afghan troops still needed help but were more than capable of taking part in the fight.
"No one has ever questioned their willingness or their ability to fight," he said. "These guys are every bit in the midst of this operation."