DAHANEH, Afghanistan — U.S. aircraft and missiles pounded Taliban mountainside positions around Dahaneh on Thursday as Marines pushed through mudbrick compounds searching for militants in the second day of fighting to seize this strategic southern town.
In the south, four NATO service members — three British and one American — were killed in separate explosions, military officials said. Further details were not available.
U.S. Marines launched a major assault Wednesday against Taliban forces in Dahaneh, a town of 2,000 people in Helmand province.
By Thursday evening, the Marines and Afghan troops had managed to take about half the town, with Taliban resistance tougher than expected. Marines came under heavy machine gun fire as they moved through the streets and alleyways.
"It's coming at us 360 degrees, but we knew they'd try to surround us," said Cpl. Kilani Garber of Middleville, Mich., as the troops ducked for cover.
At sunset, a Humvee mounted with a loudspeaker drove through neighborhoods the Marines had cleared, broadcasting to residents in their Pashto language that they could register complaints and get compensation for damage suffered in the fighting.
"The people here are hostile to outsiders. Even if they're not all with the Taliban, they're against us," said Sgt. Hazibullah, who led an Afghan army unit with the Marines.
About 400 Marines and 100 Afghan troops are taking part in the operation to capture Dahaneh. The province is the center of Afghanistan's lucrative opium business and scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the Afghan war.
Election fraud feared: Voting observers expect fraud during the Afghan presidential election Aug. 20, with a suspiciously high number of women registered to vote in culturally conservative provinces where President Hamid Karzai expects to do well. An adviser to the top U.S. commander said the black market for voter registration cards is flourishing.
Troop levels: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that an Afghan assessment due soon from commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal won't contain any specific recommendations for increases in troops.