US, Afghan Troops Ring Taliban Stronghold

Battle for Marjah to be the biggest in 9-year war
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 12, 2010 4:54 AM CST
US, Afghan Troops Ring Taliban Stronghold
U.S. Marines sleep in their firing positions at a forward camp outside Marjah in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Friday, Feb. 12, 2010.   (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

US and Afghan forces ringed the Taliban stronghold of Marjah yesterday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the 9-year war. Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack. "They're trying to draw us in," said one marine captain.

Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community. The precise date for the attack has been kept secret, though US officials have been hinting for weeks that they intend to take Marjah. NATO officials say the goal is to seize the town quickly and re-establish Afghan government authority, bringing public services in hopes of winning support of the townspeople once the Taliban are gone.
(More Marjah stories.)

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