Nightly News   |  February 13, 2010

U.S.-led push tests Afghan surge strategy

In the biggest offensive against the Taliban since the 2001 invasion, forces are slowly advancing through the militant group’s stronghold of Marjah. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> around a place called marjah, as nbc 's richard engel reports, it's the first big test of a new surge strategy against the enemy.

>> reporter: with overwhelming force, 6,000 u.s. marines , british and afghan soldiers moved in to the village of marjah at day break. taliban resistance was light and sporadic. the militants don't seem to have stayed to fight in the town of 120,000.

>> so far, so good. a little bit of friction. nothing we can't work through. it's all good. a lot less than we expected.

>> reporter: the taliban may have left because the u.s. military announced it was coming. the goal was to avoid civilian casualties . so far, none have been reported.

>> in this unconventional conflict, the kind we're fighting in afghanistan, it suits us to tell the enemy that we're coming, because we want them to get out of the area. we don't care where they go, as long as they get out.

>> reporter: but the warning gave the taliban ample time to leave marjah booby trapped with ieds. today, u.s. marines used bulldozers to cause trails in the desert. only the tilled ground is considered safe. an nbc news cameraman traveled with one road-clearing unit. they found six ieds in just one mile of road. they blew up anything suspicious, with c-4 explosive.

>> the c-4 that was launched failed to detonate. now marine has to get out, and do what's called the hero run and manually detonate the c-4. that's 1,750 pounds of c-4 being manually detonated.

>> reporter: the marine survived that dangerous mission , detonating explosives by hand. but there were some casualties today. one american, and a british soldier were killed. the next phase of this operation is to clear marjah itself and set up a local government. and that could be more dangerous, as u.s. troops have to move on foot, deeper into the town's narrow alleys and courtyards where it's easy to hide bombs and booby traps . richard engel , nbc news, london.