posted on: Thursday February 18, 2010
Kevin Cassidy ’11 / World Staff
American troops, with the help of Afghan and British forces, seized crucial positions throughout the Taliban stronghold of Marja on Saturday, Feb. 13, according to The New York Times. The forces encountered minimal fighting as they began house-to-house searches. There were two casualties, one each from American and British troops. The Afghan army made up the majority of the coalition, but did not suffer any casualties.Major General Gordon Messenger, a British military spokesman, told reporters in London that commanders on the ground are “very pleased with the beginning efforts confusing and disorienting the Taliban” in Marja, a Taliban dominated agricultural area dotted with villages.Roughly 6,000 American, British, and Afghan troops quickly moved into the area on Saturday, overwhelming any Taliban resistance that remained there. The main objective of the troops was to secure key bridges and roads. The heaviest fighting occurred when the troops fanned out across the area where they encountered frequent and intense fighting in places. The pattern may suggest harder fighting lies ahead.According to CNN, President Barack Obama was closely following the operation and was expected to meet with National Security Advisor General Jim Jones about the success of the operation later in the day on Saturday. General Jones recently returned home from Pakistan and Afghanistan where he met with U.S. and Afghan leaders, and the International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan. He had the opportunity to travel to Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Panjshir. General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, has been asked to update Obama on Sunday as well. NATO officials reported zero civilian causalities, but amid the chaos, this figure was impossible to verify. American commanders said the first day was a huge success, with American troops seizing intersections, government buildings, and one of the city’s main bazaars in the center of the town. Part of General McChrystal’s new plan called for Marines to meet with local Afghans to reassure them and ask them to help search for bombs hidden by theTaliban.Mohammed Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesperson for Helmand Province’s governor, told reporters, “We now occupy all 11 strategic outposts across the Marja neighborhood.” Hundreds of booby-traps and bombs are believed to be buried in the roads, houses, and footpaths.The Marja area is the Taliban’s largest sanctuary of about 80 acres of farmland, villages, and irrigation canals. Afghan and American troops believe the Taliban occupy a number of opium factories that are helping to finance the war.