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KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Top military leaders in Afghanistan are hailing a Marine offensive deep inside southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province as the most successful operation here since the 2001 invasion.

Tucked away in southern Afghanistan’s rugged mountains, the province has provided a sanctuary for Taliban holdouts and their al-Qaida supporters, say officials. But not anymore.

The Marine offensive, which began in March and is just now wrapping up, was the first incursion into the area by conventional forces.

The Marines are credited with killing more than 100 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters during weeks of running gunbattles in an area completely avoided by conventional U.S. forces until their arrival.

“You’re the best this place has ever seen,” Army Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the top field commander in Afghanistan, told a gathering Marines at Kandahar Airfield this weekend.

The Marines' offensive, he said, put the Taliban on the run in their own back yard.

“Never again can they use that place as a sanctuary,” said Olson. “You proved to the world the United States of America is going to take this fight to the most dangerous part of Afghanistan unafraid and absolutely determined.”

Olson said the Marine offensive also caught the Taliban off guard.

“You rocked him back on his heels. You knocked him on his ass.

“You went places that has never seen an American.

“You went to find him on his turf, on his terms, on his ground and kicked him in the ass.

“And that surprised him.”

Olson said the MEU’s performance had also “made an impression on the most senior leaders.”

Quoting Lt. Gen. David Barno, the overall commander of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Olson said,

“Never in the history of Operation Enduring Freedom has there been an offensive operation like the one the 22nd MEU conducted. Never have we been this successful. You have made history here.”

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