OUTSIDE GARMSER, Afghanistan — Marines stormed into a Taliban-held town before daybreak Tuesday, trading gunfire with insurgents on the ground and using helicopter gunships to destroy a militant compound in one of Afghanistan's most violent regions.
Several hundred Marines, many of whom have fought in Iraq, reportedly met light resistance in the assault, which is the farthest south in years that American troops have operated in Helmand province.
The goal is to stretch NATO's presence into an area where illegal opium poppy fields are plentiful and the Taliban is strong. British troops man a small base on Garmser's northern edge, but insurgents rule the countryside south of the outpost all the way to the Pakistan border.
No Marines suffered injuries, said their commander, Maj. Tom Clinton Jr. There was no immediate word on whether any insurgents were killed or wounded.
An 11-year-old Afghan boy suffered a chest wound from the explosion of a rocket that insurgents apparently fired at Marines, Clinton said. The boy was flown to a British base for surgery. His condition wasn't immediately known.
"We haven't seen anybody who isn't carrying a gun," Clinton said of the mostly deserted town, which may have up to 100 Taliban fighters. "They're trying to figure out what we're doing. They're shooting at us, letting us know they're there."
The assault on Garmser was the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived in April from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a seven-month deployment.
Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British base 10 miles west of Garmser, said militants and Marines exchanged fire in two parts of the town.
Attack helicopters "obliterated" a compound used as a base by the insurgents, said Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Mass. He said he didn't know if anyone was killed by the airstrike.
The Marines reported finding rockets and bomb-making material and detonated a roadside bomb. Commanders said they expected insurgents to plant more bombs.
3 security chiefs keep jobs
Afghanistan's three top security chiefs managed to hold onto their jobs Tuesday despite admitting before the Afghan parliament that they failed to prevent the attack Sunday on President Hamid Karzai even though they knew about the plot.
At least one policeman was arrested in the assassination attempt, deepening concerns the Taliban have infiltrated the country's poorly paid security forces. The attack also exposed the vulnerability of the capital, Kabul, to militants, who are strongest in the south and east.
A suicide attack Tuesday on counter-narcotics police in the east killed 18 people, including 11 police officers. Thirty-six people, including two Australian journalists, were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility.