KABUL, Afghanistan -- A force of 2,000 Marines has begun arriving in Afghanistan as part of a stepped-up mission to crush Taliban-led insurgents and flush out Al Qaeda fugitives.
The 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit will focus on a specific area of the country in an attempt to improve intelligence on enemy activity, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty said. He declined to give details, citing security concerns.
"The plan is to continue to place pressure on Al Qaeda and the Taliban throughout the south and east while providing enduring security," Hilferty said. He said they were not part of a troop rotation, but are additional troops.
The American military is building up its forces for an offensive intended to finish off Taliban and Al Qaeda militants whose attacks have prevented reconstruction along the Pakistani border.
In the latest operation, troops detained six suspected Taliban members -- including a "mid-level" leader -- in a raid in southern Afghanistan late yesterday, Hilferty said. He did not disclose the leader's identity.
The Marines will bring the US-led coalition to 15,500, the largest force since the United States decided to oust the Taliban for sheltering Al Qaeda in 2001.
Based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., the 22d Marines are skilled in high-technology weapons such as unmanned planes. The stint is the 22d's second in Afghanistan.
Afghan military officials said they had no information on the American troops' destination or mission, but said they were willing to provide support forces.
In their sector, the Marines will send forces from one unit to the same villages again and again.
"They will conduct operations in one set area of the country to get to know the terrain and the local people," Hilferty said.
The military says the approach has helped them uncover weapons caches across the country, but it has yet to net any top militants.
The six suspected Taliban detained yesterday were caught in a nighttime search operation near Deh Rawood, 250 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, in Uruzgan province.