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 Marines and 150 Afghan troops were taking part in "Operation Cobra's Anger" in a bid to disrupt Taliban supply and communications lines in the Now Zad Valley of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting last summer, according to Maj. William Pelletier, a Marine spokesman.
Hundreds of troops from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine reconnaissance unit Task Force Raider were 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, Pelletier said.
There were no reports of U.S. or Afghan government casualties. The spokesman for the Afghan governor of Helmand province, Daood Ahmadi, said at least four Taliban fighters had been killed and their bodies recovered.
Pelletier said insurgents were caught off guard by the early morning air assault.
The offensive began three days after Obama announced that he was sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and train Afghan security forces to take responsibility for defending against the militants.
Most of the new troops are expected to be sent to southern Afghanistan, including Helmand, where Taliban influence is strongest.
Friday's fighting was taking place in one of the most challenging areas of the country for the U.S.-led NATO force, which has been trying for years to break the Taliban grip there.
The town of Now Zad used to be one of the largest towns in Helmand, the center of Afghanistan's lucrative opium poppy growing industry. However, three years of fighting have chased away Now Zad's 30,000 inhabitants, leaving the once-thriving market and commercial area a ghost town. Instead the area has become a major supply and transportation hub for Taliban forces that use the valley to move drugs, weapons and fighters.