KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The new NATO offensive in Helmand Province marked not only the largest assault yet for the VM-22 Osprey, but also the combat debut of the Marines' massive new combat mine and bomb-clearing machine, the Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV), said a Marine Corps spokesman in Helmand.
The ABV, which looks like something out of an apocalyptic science fiction movie, is built on the chassis of the M1A1 Abrams tank, but with a different turret and no main gun. Instead, it's equipped with a giant mine-clearing plow on the front and devices that shoot long lines of C4 explosives to clear a lane through bombs and mines.
An automated system shoves poles into the ground on both sides of the newly safe lane as the ABV moves forward.
It can even be operated remotely, without a crew.
The assault, which includes about 900 U.S. Marines and sailors and 150 Afghan soldiers, started in the predawn hours Friday.
By Saturday no casualties had been reported among the NATO and Afghan Army troops involved, said Maj. William Pelletier, a spokesman at the Marine Corp's main base in Afghanistan and Helmand Province, Camp Leatherneck.
The insurgents were caught off guard and had mustered only sporadic resistance, firing fewer than a dozen times, Pelletier said. In each case, they were killed.
The U.S. and Afghan troops captured caches of bomb-making material, mortars, machine guns and other small arms, he said.
ABVs were used to clear a path through a whole field of improvised bombs as the NATO and Afghan troops worked their way around the city of Now Zad, Pelletier said.
Now Zad was once Helmand's second-largest city, home to about 30,000 people. Now, though, it's virtually a ghost town, except for insurgents. Residents fled, Pelletier said, in part because the huge number of bombs planted in the city made it uninhabitable.
The operation, dubbed Cobra's Anger, is designed in part to start securing the area so that the Afghan government and non-governmental organizations can start clearing the bombs and mines so the residents can eventually return, Pelletier said.
The operation was a good warm-up for the hulking ABVs. Pelletier said they are expected to be vital later in a long-discussed assault on the Helmand city of Marjeh.
Marjeh, about 12 miles southwest of the provincial capita Lashkar Gah, has become such a major Taliban stronghold that it's drawing comparisons to Fallujah, the notorious city in Iraq's once-deadly Anbar Province, a place that the Marines assaulted twice in the biggest battles of the Iraq war.
(Price reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh.)
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