KABUL, Afghanistan — The massive Marine-led offensive in southern Afghanistan against the last remaining Taliban stronghold in Helmand province claimed the first two casualties from coalition forces, with two unidentified soldiers killed Saturday, just hours after the start of the operation.
The campaign is the biggest assault since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
At least 20 Taliban were killed, according to the Afghan military but the insurgents claimed that they were still holding on to the town. Locals interviewed by McClatchy said that the Taliban were preventing residents from leaving. Fighting was said to be "sporadic".
Some 15,000 soldiers are storming the extremist bastion of Marjah, a town of around 80,000 where the operation risks causing civilian casualties that would undermine the new U.S. strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan.
Separately, three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb elsewhere in the south of Afghanistan.
(Shah is a McClatchy Special Correspondent.)
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