Marines Raid Taliban-Controlled Town in Afghanistan's Helmand Province

By Alfred de Montesquiou
Associated Press
Thursday, August 13, 2009

DAHANEH, Afghanistan, Aug. 12 -- Helicopter-borne U.S. Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed a Taliban-controlled town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday, the launch of an operation to uproot Taliban fighters from a long-held base and to provide security for next week's presidential election.

The troops exchanged heavy fire with insurgents in Dahaneh, in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least seven of them. Fighting lasted more than eight hours, with the Taliban putting up such fierce resistance that Marines said they suspected the insurgents knew the assault was imminent.

It was the first time NATO troops had entered Dahaneh, which has been under Taliban control for years.

U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites across the country so that Afghans can take part in the country's second-ever direct presidential election, scheduled for Aug. 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the election, and attacks are on the rise.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said the operation, named Eastern Resolve 2, was "going as planned." The offensive is designed to break the months-long stalemate in this southern valley. By occupying Dahaneh, the Marines hope to isolate insurgents in woods and mountains, away from civilian centers.

"I think this has the potential to be a watershed," said Capt. Zachary Martin, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who led the assault.

Casualties have mounted as U.S. and NATO forces ramp up military operations after President Obama's decision to deploy 21,000 more American troops to Afghanistan this year to cope with the rising Taliban insurgency.

Also Wednesday, two Associated Press journalists embedded with the U.S. military in southern Afghanistan were injured in a bombing 15 miles north of the town of Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, and 120 miles southeast of Dahaneh.

Photographer Emilio Morenatti and AP Television News videographer Andi Jatmiko were traveling with a unit of the 5th Stryker when their vehicle ran over a bomb planted in the open desert terrain, the military said. Two U.S. troops suffered leg wounds in the bombing, one of them severe.

Jatmiko had leg injuries and two broken ribs. Morenatti, injured in one of his legs, underwent surgery that resulted in the loss of a foot. Both men were evacuated Wednesday to a medical center in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

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