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U.S. Marines start deploying in southern Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Some of the 3,200 U.S. Marines slated for a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan's volatile south have begun arriving at the region's largest base following a call from Canada for more troops there.

About 2,300 troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be based in Kandahar, the Taliban's former power base. A majority of those Marines arrived in the last several days.

Canada has 2,500 troops in Kandahar province but has threatened to end its combat role in Afghanistan unless other NATO countries provide an additional 1,000 troops to help the anti-Taliban effort there.

The Marines will conduct a "full spectrum of operations" to capitalize on recent gains by NATO and Afghan forces, said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. They began arriving this week.

"I believe that the arrival of the Marines simply reinforces what is proving to be a successful strategy. It also demonstrates the commitment of the United States to Afghanistan over the long-term," U.S. Ambassador William Wood said Tuesday.

After arriving, key personnel began meeting with other military leaders and collecting lessons learned from those who have been operating in the area, said Capt. Kelly Frushour, a spokeswoman for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

About 1,000 Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, based in Twentynine Palms, California, will also be deployed in the south to train Afghan police and soldiers. They are expected to arrive in April or May, said Lt. Col. David Johnson, a U.S. Army spokesman.

"Their deployment is counterinsurgency at its finest," said Johnson. "They're going to be integrated as part of the U.S. team here with those districts and communities, and they will be working very closely with the police and some of the Afghan National Army guys."

NATO's ISAF is some 43,000-strong, but commanders have asked for more combat troops, particularly for the country's south, where the insurgency is the most active. About 13,000 U.S. troops operate in a separate U.S.-led coalition.

Troops from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have done the majority of the fighting against Taliban militants. France, Spain, Germany and Italy are stationed in more peaceful parts of the country.

Last year was Afghanistan's most violent since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. More than 8,000 people died in violence, the U.N. says.