Afghanistan - Helmand offensive

First casualties as 15,000 troops enter Marjah

British soldiers from the First Battalion The Royal Welsh mobilise for Operation Moshtarak at Camp Bastion on Saturday
British soldiers from the First Battalion The Royal Welsh mobilise for Operation Moshtarak at Camp Bastion on Saturday Reuters

Thousands of troops have launched an offensive, dubbed "Operation Mushtarak", in the Marjah district of Afghanistan's Helmand province. Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) says a combined force of 15,000 soldiers is being led by US marines, but also incorporates Afghan soldiers.

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Five Taliban fighters were killed on Saturday in two separate locations after the offensive began, according to Afghan officers.

US and British troops were dropped into the town by helicopter ahead of ground troops, said Lieutenant Josh Diddams, a US marines spokesperson. He said troops were meeting "minimal resistance" as they moved forward on the ground, but that they had come under fire from Taliban fighters.

Helmand Governor Mohammad Gulab said troops transported by 60 helicopters had taken 11 "strategic areas", but that there were "a lot of mines in the area", which are being defused.

The operation is concentrated on the town of Marjah, which has a population of 125,000 people. Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned against civilian casualties after the offensive began.

A US soldier died on Saturday in a suicide bombing close to the southern city of Kandahar, and three others were wounded. An Afghan civilian was also killed and four civilians were wounded.

Governor Gulab Mangal said earlier this week that a local government in waiting is ready to establish civil and security services.

The offensive began just after midnight local time and is the biggest military assault in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion eight years ago. It comes after US president Barack Obama announced an additional 30,000 troops, on top of the 113,000 foreign soldiers already stationed in the country and last month's international conference in London.

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