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US offensive in Afghanistan targets Taliban stronghold

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David Guttenfelder/AP

(Read caption) US Marines temporarily occupy a house after arriving in an overnight air assault near the Taliban stronghold of Nawa in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Thursday.

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The US military launched a major offensive in southern Afghanistan today, unleashing newly arrived American manpower in a bid to stabilize the country ahead of national elections slated for August.

Nearly 4,000 US Marines and 650 Afghan soldiers and police moved into riverside towns in Helmand Province overnight. The operation marks the first major strike using some of the additional 21,000 US forces sent to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama.

As the offensive got under way, the military said that an American soldier who had been missing since Tuesday was believed to have been captured in Paktika Province, in eastern Afghanistan. A spokesman for the Taliban could not confirm that the soldier was being held by militants.

Over the past several years, British forces have struggled to permanently wrest territory in Helmand away from entrenched Taliban insurgents. The fertile province leads the nation in poppy cultivation and has become a cash cow for insurgents involved in the drug trade.

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