KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines swooped down behind Taliban lines in helicopters and Osprey aircraft Friday in the first offensive since President Barack Obama announced an American troop surge.
About 1,000 U.S. Marines and 150 Afghan soldiers descended on a virtually empty city in southern Afghanistan on Friday to cut off supply routes for Taliban fighters who have taken refuge in the area.
The troops want to starve out the insurgents holed up around Now Zad, which was once a vibrant city of 30,000 but now is a virtual ghost town because of years of fighting.
Hundreds of troops from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine reconnaissance unit Task Force Raider dropped by helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft in the northern end of the valley while a second, larger Marine force pushed northward from the main Marine base in the town of Now Zad, according to Marine spokesman Maj. William Pelletier.
A U.S. military official in Washington said it was the first use of Ospreys, aircraft that combine features of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, in an offensive involving units larger than platoons.
The assault may prove to be a warmup for an even larger, more complex and more dangerous assault on Marja, a town where many Taliban fighters and narcotics middlemen fled after Marines this summer descended on nearby villages.
In Now Zad, Marines had to contend with roadside bombs that Taliban militants buried in anticipation of the Americans’ arrival. Even more such bombs are expected to await troops when the Marja assault begins.
“Marja is that last major sanctuary in Helmand province, the last place where the enemy has freedom of movement,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “We’re going to take that away from him.”
Nicholson compared the prospective battle in Marja to the fight in late 2004 to clear barricaded insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
The Los Angeles Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.