August 13, 2009 3:17:20 am
Helicopter-borne US Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn on Wednesday in an operation to secure the country ahead of presidential elections.
The troops exchanged heavy fire with insurgents,killing at least seven. Militants fired small arms,mortars and rocket-propelled grenades after helicopters dropped the troops over Taliban lines. The fighting lasted more than eight hours. The Taliban put up such fierce resistance that Marines said they suspected the militants knew the assault was coming.
Other Marines met heavy resistance as they fought to seize control of the mountains surrounding Dahaneh in Helmand. Another convoy of Marines rolled into the town despite roadside bombs and gunfire. It was the first time NATO troops had entered Dahaneh,which has been under the Taliban for years.
US,NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so Afghans can take part in the presidential election on August 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the elections,and attacks are on the rise.
Marines said they killed between seven and 10 militants in Wednesdays push and seized about 30 kgs of opium,which the militants use to finance their insurgency. Troops hope to restore control of the town so that residents can vote in the election.
The new offensive,named Eastern Resolve 2,is designed to break the months-long stalemate in this southern valley where the Taliban are solidly entrenched. By occupying Dahaneh,the Marines hope to isolate insurgents in woods and mountains,away from civilian centres.
The goal is to cut off the Taliban from a major rear base,and reclaim the areas market district. It is hoped this would have a ripple effect through neighbouring villages,making civilians more willing to cooperate with NATO forces. In the long term,it could have tremendous effects for the entire province, said Martin,whose company is based in Naw Zad,10 kms to the north.
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