U.S. sends 2,000 Marines to Taliban stronghold

The U.S. military has sent 2,000 Marines to a Taliban stronghold and wants a new Afghan militia to make up for a troop shortage in insurgency-roiled southern Afghanistan, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The Marines have deployed to the area around Tirin Kot, 250 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, in Uruzgan province, Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said.

Uruzgan, the home province of fugitive Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and several of his key lieutenants, remains a stronghold of the ousted militia. Some observers believe the one-eyed Omar might still be in the province.

Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said the Marines were a "surge force," available to flood an area anywhere in the country at short notice.

The Afghan force will "help increase security and stability in a region where right now we don't have enough forces to provide that security," Mansager said.

He expressed frustration at Afghan officials in the troubled south, urging them to report militant attacks in time for U.S. forces to respond "rather than after the fact."

More than 300 people have died in violence across Afghanistan so far this year, including 10 Afghan soldiers found dead Monday in southern Afghanistan after being abducted in two raids by suspected Taliban militants.

[Source: Associated Press, Kabul, Afg, 05May04]

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