NATO warns Afghans: “Keep your heads down”
An Afghan farmer watches U.S. Marines patrol around Huskers camp on the outskirts of Marjah in central Helmand, 26 Jan 2010
Hundreds of civilians fled a Taliban-controlled area in southern Afghanistan ahead of a planned NATO major operation.
Around 400 US troops from the 5th Stryker Brigade were joined by 250 Afghan soldiers and their 30 Canadian trainers to move into positions north east of Taliban-controlled Marjah.
NATO’s senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, said that Afghan civilians have been warned “to keep their heads down” when US-led NATO forces launch a planned military offensive in Marjah, in the southern Helmand province.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, but large plumes of smoke could be seen in the area and reporters travelling with the US unit reported hearing the distant rattle of machine guns and detonations from rocket-propelled grenades.
Sedwill said Tuesday that fighting around Marjah, a farming community and a major opium production town currently under the control of the Taliban, was likely to prompt an exodus from the area.
This will be the first offensive since US President Barack Obama announced he was sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.
NATO says it has sufficient resources to house and feed people displaced by the offensive.