US, British, and Afghan troops encountered little initial resistance as they swept into Marjah yesterday and took up "all the strategic points in the area" in the biggest offensive since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. It was as they began individually searching houses, reports Dexter Filkins in the New York Times, that they encountered spotty-but-fierce gunfire. Two allied troops were killed in what Filkins reports will be the hardest-fought part of the campaign.
With 1,000 Afghan paramilitary cops poised to swoop in within 24 hours to set up an instant local government, the big question is how many Taliban fighters remain in the area. “Based on our intelligence reports, some of the Taliban have left the area," says the Afghan defense minister. "But we still expected there to be several hundred." Not so fast, says one local: “I don’t think they have gone anywhere, because Marja has been surrounded by Afghan and foreign forces on every side.” (Read more Afghanistan stories.)