Marines find Taliban resistance more disorganised

AP

Wednesday, February 17, 2010    

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MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) -- US and Afghan forces traded gunfire with insurgents shooting from haystacks in poppy fields yesterday as NATO forces progressed against increasingly fitful resistance in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah.

NATO said a service member taking part in the operation was killed by a roadside bomb yesterday -- the third confirmed fatality among international forces since the attack on the town began Saturday.

NATO did not identify the latest victim by nationality. Afghan military spokesman Lieutenant Mohammad Esah said yesterday one Afghan soldier has died in the offensive but did not say when.

Insurgents tried but failed to bring down an Osprey aircraft with rocket-propelled grenades as Cobra attack helicopters fired missiles at enemy positions, including a machine gun bunker. Marines and Afghan troops who pushed through four days of sniper fire and homemade bombs finally linked up with units that had been airdropped into town in the first hours of the offensive.

When troops first landed by helicopter in the early hours of Saturday, there was initially no fighting, but that soon changed, said Lieutenant Gordon Emmanuel, commander of 2nd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Entrenched in a compound deep in town, they have fought heated battles for days, waiting for the ground assault troops to arrive with reinforcements.

"When it is daytime, there is non-stop contact until the sun goes down ... every day," Emmanuel said.

Overall, Marine officials said the resistance seemed to be growing disorganised.

"We're not seeing coordinated attacks like we did originally. We're still getting small-arms fire but it's sporadic, and hit-and-run tactics," said spokesman Capt. Abraham Sipe. "As a whole, while there is still resistance, it is of a disorganised nature."

A Taliban spokesman, however, claimed that insurgents retain control of the town and coalition forces "descended from helicopters in limited areas of Marjah and now are under siege".

Spokesman Tariq Ghazniwal extended an invitation by e-mail to journalists to visit Marjah, saying the trip would "show who have the upper hand in the area".

But US forces say they have managed to consolidate footholds in the town despite harassment by sniper squads trying to slow their advance. For the first time since the offensive started, US forces fired long-range artillery "smoke shells", which are non-lethal, to intimidate insurgents.

"We are trying not to be decisively engaged, so we can progress, but we're having some difficulty right now," said Lima Company commander Captain Joshua Winfrey.

Squads continued with their house-to-house searches, removing bombs and booby-traps as they moved through town. Inside some compounds yesterday, squads found small doses of heroin, a Taliban photo album with fighters posing with AK-47s, and large propaganda wall paintings of insurgents shooting down helicopters.

Three more Afghan civilians were killed in the assault, NATO forces said, highlighting the toll on the population from an offensive aimed at making civilians safer.

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