SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN U.S. Marines are moving into an offensive mode for the first time around the Taliban's last stronghold, Kandahar, helping tighten the siege of the city as Afghan tribal fighters move in, U.S. officers said Wednesday.
The new tactics, cutting off roads and communications to the city, marked a significant shift in the role of the Marines after days of building up a forward base in the deserts outside Kandahar.
"Opposition groups are now closing in on Kandahar," Maj. James Parrington, executive officer of the Marine Expeditionary Unit 15th's Battalion Landing Team 1, said, referring to the Afghan forces. "We are supporting them by conducting offensive operations."
The Marines will cut off roads, pathways and other routes that could be used by the Taliban either to bring in reinforcements or escape, Parrington, 37, of Minneapolis, told journalists at the base, called Marine Forward Operating Base Rhino.
Reconnaissance units were identifying key pieces of terrain north of Kandahar. They "are getting themselves in position to cut lines of communication," he said. Both the Marines and their Pashtun allies were getting into "position to defeat Taliban forces outside of Kandahar," he said.
Marines from Base Rhino were called into action Wednesday after an errant U.S. bomb killed three U.S. servicemen and five anti-Taliban Afghan fighters and wounded 19 Americans and around 20 Afghans.
Some of the injured were flown to the base, which has a Navy field medical unit with 10 doctors. The Americans and some of the Afghans were immediately flown out on C130 transports to hospitals elsewhere.
U.S. jets have been pounding Taliban positions outside Kandahar, trying to soften up their defenses as the ethnic Pashtun tribesmen push toward the city.
U.S. officials in Washington have said the Marines were not expected to take part in street fighting to drive the Taliban from Kandahar. But the Marines' new move to help constrict the siege of the city was a major change for their mission so far.