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Marines prep for key Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan

Marines will launch a major offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan's district of Marjeh. It could be similar to the battles of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.

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A US Marine searches a building during an operation in the Garmsir district of the volatile Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Thursday.

Kevin Frayer/AP

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Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson is prepping his Marines to launch a major offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan – in what could be a game-changer in the operations here.

Nicholson, the senior Marine commander in Afghanistan, will in the coming weeks receive hundreds of reinforcements, the first wave of forces to deploy as part of President Obama’s surge. That will allow Nicholson to pierce the Taliban stronghold of Marjeh – a 100-square-mile region that must, in the words of another senior Marine officer, be “cracked open.”

The Taliban has been operating in the district of Marjeh since being pushed out of other areas of Helmand Province. There are reportedly opium stockpiles in Marjeh.

“We’re going to go in big,” Nicholson said with panache Thursday, standing on a remote base in Nawa with Marines, Afghan officials, and a gaggle of reporters around him. “We’re going to put the enemy on the horns of a dilemma – again,” he says.

Nicholson’s rhetorical swagger may be nothing more than posturing. But he has reason to be confident, pointing to other areas in Helmand where the population, forced to choose sides, has gone against the Taliban.

One of those areas is the village of Nawa. On Thursday, Nicholson escorted Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a walk through Nawa's market to demonstrate how quickly things can change. Just five months ago, this area was under daily attack, and Afghans didn’t frequent the market.

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