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Marines Surge Strikes Taliban Snipers in Helmand Province

February 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Elite marine recon teams were dropped behind Taliban lines as the major NATO offensive in Southern Afghanistan ends its first week. Ray Suarez reports.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: American and Afghan forces made a new effort today to root out resistance in a key Taliban town.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

RAY SUAREZ: A week ago, hundreds of U.S. Marines helicoptered into northern Marjah in Helmand Province to begin the fighting. Today, some two dozen members of elite reconnaissance teams dropped behind enemy lines to go after Taliban snipers.

Other Marine squads and Afghan troops moved in to southern parts of the city, under sniper and rocket fire. Meanwhile, medevac helicopters were busy taking wounded troops out of the city. And NATO, overseeing the offensive, reported another death today.

On Thursday, six foreign troops were killed. In all, 12 NATO troops and one Afghan soldier have been killed since the offensive began. As the fighting continues, hundreds of Afghan families have fled Marjah for the relative safety of Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s central city.

NAZAR MOHAMMAD, displaced Marjah resident (through translator): No one has helped us so far. We have come from Marjah because of the bombing and the fighting. The Taliban had taken shelter in our houses, and we just managed to get ourselves out of there, and couldn’t bring anything else.

RAY SUAREZ: But the refugees say they have found little in the way of assistance so far.

TAJ WALI, displaced Marjah resident (through translator): I have been here for the last six days. All those people who I know and who are from my area haven’t received any help yet. The government says that they will help us, but they are not doing it. They just help those people who they know.

RAY SUAREZ: Back in Marjah, the main bazaar and other sections have already been turned over to Afghan police, with help from government soldiers.

MOHAMMAD LAHAQ KHANJER, Afghan police officer (through translator): I would like to give this message to Marjah residents. We are going there for their sake, for their safety, and we are doing this operation to clean up the area from enemies.

RAY SUAREZ: In the past, the local police were seen as tainted with corruption. Afghan army commanders say that has to change with this new deployment.

CAPTAIN MOHAMMAD YUMUS, Afghan National Army commander (through translator): These police officers are well-trained from the interior ministry. Hopefully, we will be able to explain to the villagers that these are not like the government officials who were there before. These officers are different. So, I hope they will accept them.

RAY SUAREZ: NATO commanders say they hope to prevent the Taliban from returning to Marjah with their clear, hold, build strategy. They aim to secure the area, bring in a civilian Afghan administration, and try to restore public services.

Meanwhile, Afghan Taliban leaders are under new pressure in Pakistan. At least three top leaders have been captured there in recent days, with help from the CIA. The Pakistani interior minister said today their prisoners may be returned to Afghanistan, but will not be handed over to the U.S.