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Afghanistan war: Marjah battle as tough as Fallujah, say US troops

US and Afghan troops moved towards the center of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah today despite encountering fierce sniper fire and mine fields. Sixty percent of the front-line forces are Afghan troops.

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A Marine from from the 6th Marines runs during a gunfight in Marjah, Afghanistan on Sunday. NATO forces are in the midst of an operation to clear the Taliban from the city, their largest stronghold in Helmand Province.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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Thousands of US and Afghan troops ground their way towards the center of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah today despite encountering fierce sniper fire and even greater numbers of home-made bombs, booby traps, and minefields than anticipated.

US Marines raised an Afghan flag inside the town limits but pockets of Taliban militants dug in, with some veterans comparing the intensity of the fighting to that encountered when they stormed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2005.

"In Fallujah, it was just as intense. But there, we started from the north and worked down to the south. In Marjah, we're coming in from different locations and working toward the centre, so we're taking fire from all angles," Captain Ryan Sparks told Reuters.

The operation to clear Taliban insurgency from their biggest stronghold in Helmand province looks increasingly like an acid test of Western military and political strategy in Afghanistan, with the outcome likely to deal a powerful propaganda blow one way or the other.

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