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Battle Against Taliban Continues In Marjah

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

RAZ: The sounds of gunfire exchanges today between U.S. Marines and Taliban fighters near the southern Afghan city of Marjah. 15,000 Afghan and NATO troops are involved in the Marjah operation, with about half of them pressing deep into that city of 80,000.

It's a place that NATO considers a Taliban stronghold, where opium used to fund the insurgency is processed, and bombs are manufactured.

(Soundbite of helicopters)

RAZ: Helicopters continue to land near that city, unloading more troops. For weeks, NATO commanders have warned of an impending offensive there, and those warnings may have prompted many Taliban fighters to flee.

Here's Lieutenant Ryan Engle from 3/6 Lima Company.

Lieutenant RYAN ENGLE (United States Marine Corps): There was limited resistance, much less than was expected, but we did find several IEDs and bombs and things like that.

RAZ: Two soldiers, one American and one British, were killed on the first day of the operation. At least 12 Afghan civilians died when rocket fire accidentally struck a house. For now, the top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says he's ordered troops to temporarily stop using that type of rocket system. NPR could not independently verify whether that suspension has begun.

The offensive is an experiment. The idea is to retake the town and then leave a sizable Afghan contingent behind to keep the Taliban from returning. Once that happens, NATO will install a temporary local government and begin to rush in development aid.

Here's NATO spokesman Mark Sedwill.

Mr. MARK SEDWILL (Spokesman, NATO): I can't yet say how long it will take for this military phase to get to the point where we can bring in the civilian support from the Afghan government. We hope that will happen quickly.

RAZ: NPR will continue to follow this developing story from Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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