Military sweep of Marja focuses on pocket of 'determined resistance'
and Afghan troops fight to clear holdout insurgents from one corner of
the city in southern Afghanistan. NATO says there is another casualty
among Western troops, bringing the total to 13.
By Tony Perry and Laura King
8:16 AM PST, February 21, 2010
from Nawa, Afghanistan, and Kabul, Afghanistan -- Backed by fighter
jets and attack helicopters, U.S. Marines and Afghan troops closed in
on an insurgent-ridden sector of Marja on Sunday, the ninth day of a
coalition bid to wrest control of the southern Afghan town from the
The fighting, concentrated in northwestern Marja, took place amid what
NATO called "determined resistance" from holdout fighters in various
locations in and around the town. Advancing coalition troops faced a
continuing threat from small-arms fire and improvised explosive
devices, or IEDs, the Western military said in a statement.
"We're still pushing through the city," said Lt. Josh Diddams, a Marine
spokesman. Some of the remaining pockets of insurgents consist of only
a handful of fighters, but at least 40 -- a relatively large
concentration -- are thought to be holed up in the town's northwestern
quarter, the Associated Press reported.
NATO said Sunday another service member was killed in connection with
the offensive, bringing the number of Western troop fatalities to 13.
At least eight were Marines.
The battle of Marja is the largest coalition assault since the 2001
U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban. NATO commanders want to
break the insurgents' grip on the town and its environs as part of a
larger effort to establish government authority for the first time in
years in a strategic swath of troubled Helmand province.
NATO said the operation remained "on track," although commanders
conceded last week that clearing operations will take a month or more,
somewhat longer than originally envisioned.
In coming days, however, the coalition expects the town will be secure
enough to bring in a newly appointed Afghan governor, marking a
symbolic shift away from the military confrontation and toward job
creation, school openings and the setting up of other long-absent
The military said in a statement that route clearance -- ridding the
roads of one buried bomb after another -- was improving freedom of
movement for local people. Many Marja residents have been pinned down
in their homes for days by the fighting or have fled to other parts of
Shops are slowly reopening as well, field commanders and local
Although the Marja offensive is concentrated in the district of Nad
Ali, where the town is located, related operations are taking place
across Helmand, the insurgency's traditional heartland.
NATO forces on Sunday reported the capture of a Taliban commander and
another insurgent in a shootout in Kajaki district, in the east of
Helmand, which left one of the suspects wounded. Both of the men
arrested Friday were thought to have helped plant IEDs and plan attacks.
In another operation last week that was tied to the Marja offensive,
coalition forces in Sangin district, also in Helmand's east, captured
three Taliban fighters and seized nearly 150 detonators for use in
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