US Marines pushed deeper into Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan, seeking to cut insurgent supply lines and win over local elders in the biggest US military operation there since the US-led invasion of 2001.
On the other side of the border, US missiles struck a Pakistani Taliban militant training center and communications center, killing 17 people and wounding nearly 30, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Both US operations were aimed at what US President Barack Obama considers as the biggest dangers in the region: a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency allied with al-Qaeda that threatens both nuclear-armed Pakistan and the US-backed government in Afghanistan.
The 4,000-strong US force met little resistance on Friday as troops fanned out into villages in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, although one Marine was killed and several others were wounded the day before, US officials said.
Despite minimal contact, the Marines could see militants using flashlights late on Thursday to signal one another about US troop movements.
Military spokesman Captain Bill Pelletier said the goal of the Helmand operation was not simply to kill Taliban fighters but to win over the local population.
Marines also hope to cut the routes used by militants to funnel weapons, ammunition and fighters from Pakistan to the Taliban, which mounted an increasingly violent insurgency since its hard-line Islamist government was toppled in 2001 by an international coalition.
As Operation Khanjar, or “Strike of the Sword,” entered its second day, Marines took control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser, and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, Pelletier said.
In one village near Nawa, the atmosphere was tense.
“When we asked if they had a village elder or Mullah for the American commander to talk to, the answer was no,” said Captain Drew Schoenmaker, a Marine company commander. “It’s fear of reprisal. Fear and intimidation is one thing the enemy does very well.”
The head of US Central Command warned on Friday that US troops were in for a tough fight.