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Marines seize insurgent command center in southern Afghanistan

In first operations, U.S. forces also aim to intersect weapons and drug routes

GARMSIR, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines assaulted into this Taliban stronghold early today in a series of pre-dawn strikes, seizing a major insurgent command center and killing a number of insurgents.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/world/bal-afghan0429,0,6859305.story

By David Wood | Sun reporter
10:15 AM EDT, April 29, 2008

There were no reports of Marine casualties.

Backed by artillery, helicopter gunships and strike fighters, Marines also speared south of Garmsir to intersect major weapons and drug smuggling routes that head north from the Pakistan border about 75 miles away.

The operations were the first by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has fielded in southern Afghanistan some 2,200 Marines, along with light armor and an air squadron.

The 24th MEU was diverted in January from a planned deployment to Iraq, indicating the rising level of concern in Washington that the Taliban were making significant inroads against the internationally backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

South of Garmsir, Marines were battling intense heat as they pushed on foot through lush fields of pink and white poppies marked off by raised dikes and irrigation ditches.

In one short engagement this morning, the Marines took rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, and a Marine scout helicopter killed two insurgents with rockets and .50-cal machine gun fire.

The battle for the Taliban command center raged all day today, said Lt. Anthony Henderson, who commands the 1st Battlion 6th Marine Regiment, the core infantry unit of the 24th MEU.

Henderson said the Marines gradually pushed the Taliban back into a corner of the facility and then called in air strikes by Cobra attack helicopters with Hellfire missiles.

There was no immediate estimate of enemy dead.

david.wood@baltsun.com