CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — U.S. forces have driven the Taliban from most towns and villages in the strategic Helmand province of Afghanistan, leaving incoming troops with the mission of holding key areas and rebuilding the economy, Marine commanders say.
"They've taken on the Taliban, the insurgency, right in the heartland, and they've defeated them," Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said in an interview with USA TODAY.
Commanders warn that Taliban forces remain dangerous and could mount a resurgence. Six coalition soldiers were killed in attacks around the country Monday. Still, the developments in Helmand could have broad implications for the war because of the province's importance to the Taliban.
Much of the Taliban's leadership and support comes from the mostly Pashtun province and nearby Kandahar. Helmand, the country's largest province, also produces most of the country's poppy crop, which has helped fund the insurgency.
Recent attention has been focused on President Obama's orders to send about 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan this year. But an influx of Marines to Helmand province last year has produced dramatic results, raising hopes that the gains can be consolidated and spread elsewhere, Mills said.