US, Afghan commanders claim Taliban fleeing Marja stronghold in southern Afghanistan

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Nad Ali (Afghanistan), Feb.16 (ANI): American and Afghan army commanders have claimed that the Taliban is fleeing in droves from their stronghold in Marja, southern Afghanistan.

The New York Times reports that fighting in and around the insurgent stronghold has intensified on the third day, and quotes NATO and Afghan army commanders as saying that the Taliban fighter population has dropped by about half on Monday.

The officers said that about a quarter of the 400 Taliban fighters estimated to be in Marja have been killed.

The NYT said that fighting appears to be concentrated in two areas, at the northern end of the district and at the centre, and is continuing at a furious pace.

The morale among the Taliban fighters appears to be eroding fast, in part because the holdouts feel abandoned by their leaders and by local Afghans who are refusing to shelter them.

"They cannot feed themselves, they cannot sustain themselves - that is what we are hearing," the NYT quoted Colonel Scott Hartsell, as telling a group of senior officers at a briefing near Marja that included Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces; and Afghanistan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.

"They are calling for help, and they are not getting any. Pretty soon, they are going to run out of gas," Colonel Hartsell added.ndeed, some of the American and Afghan commanders said that they hoped to complete the combat phase of the operation within three or four days.

The details of the assessment, the most extensive made public on the Marja operation, could not be independently verified. But whatever the accuracy of the briefing, it did not lessen the ferocity of the battle at various points on the ground.

The paper said that despite the encouraging reports from the field, the American military and Afghan government had to contend with plenty of difficulties, in Marja and in other locations.

There were conflicting accounts of a missile strike that killed at least 11 civilians on Sunday. American officials said they had in fact hit the target they intended, a description that did not match accounts from Marines and other witnesses on the ground. (ANI)

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