US Marines are making steady progress in one of the biggest NATO offensives in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001, but areas infested with roadside bombs are bogging them down, a spokesman said on Monday. On day three of Operation Moshtarak, senior Afghan officers said areas around Marjah and Nad Ali were being cleared of insurgents. The campaign aims to bring the areas back under Afghan government control. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with Rod Norland of the New York Times in Kabul.
KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark and this is The World. One of the biggest NATO offenses in Afghanistan since the war began is now in its third day. U.S. Marines are leading 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops in an assault aimed at taking control of the town of Marjah in Helmand Province from the Taliban. But NATO commanders say the threat from improvised explosive devices is worse than they anticipated. They say Taliban insurgents have planted great numbers of IED's and that slowed the advance of American troops. Rod Nordland of the New York Times is in Kabul and just how much Taliban resistance are troops facing?
ROD NORLAND: Well I guess it depends on how you define resistance. If you're thinking about groups of fighters having a gun fight at every corner and large amounts of artillery and air power blasting away, then that was Fallujah, that's not Marjah. But if you're talking about large numbers of booby traps and IED's and mines and so forth, then they are encountering quite a lot of resistance. But ultimately it just slows them down and they'll have teams of ordnance disposal experts who eventually take care of that. Some estimates are that there's as few as 20 Taliban left in Marjah at this point.
CLARK: As few as 20 you're saying? This is considered the largest Taliban stronghold. What has happened? Have they all fled?
NORDLAND: Well for weeks they were advertising that they were coming. After having warned the press to keep the offensive secret and not to discuss it or anything else, as we get imbeds ready to go with them, they then began doing just the opposite and announcing it themselves and making sure the Taliban knew they were coming; practically told them what day they were coming. They wanted Taliban to leave so that they wouldn't have to have this big firefight that would cause a lot of innocent civilian deaths.
CLARK: But doesn't that sort of just push the ultimate confrontation further down the road for them?
NORDLAND: It does, but it's symbolically really important both to the Afghan government and I think the IFAS strategy which, to take this large population center away from the Taliban, it's a city of 80,000 people, it's the biggest population center that they could be said to have controlled, and it's a showcase for the military's new strategy of what they call a population centered strategy where the emphasis is on keeping civilian casualties as low as possible.
CLARK: Well obviously the military phase is just the start here. Are there enough well trained Afghans to take over and keep control when NATO troops start leave?
NORDLAND: That's a good question. I think we'll see. There's a lot of the resources that they plan to pour in are foreign funded. And whether the Afghans are competent enough to take what's put in there and sustain it, that's another question.
CLARK: The New York Times Rod Nordland speaking to us from Kabul, Afghanistan. Rod thanks a lot.
NORDLAND: You're welcome.