MARJAH, Afghanistan - The thousands of troops working to oust Taliban militants from Marjah met pockets of resistance, but NATO says the push called the biggest offensive of the war is getting off to a good start.
"So far, so good," said British military spokesman Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger, who told reporters in London that commanders are "very pleased" with the siege in the Marjah region. He said key objectives such as securing key bridges and roads were being reached with "minimal interference" by Taliban militants unable to put up a "coherent response."
"The Taliban appear confused and disoriented," Messenger said, but tempered his optimism with the reminder that the operation is not yet done.
Earlier, a NATO spokeswoman said Operation Moshtarak was going according to plan. Flight Commander Wendy Wheadon said NATO forces have already begun working with local leaders to begin the transition of authority as troops move into Marjah, a place thought to be the last Taliban stronghold in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand.
Wheadon said forces have discovered large numbers of explosives, such as 155 mm artillery shells, 10 improvised explosive devices and bullets from a Soviet-made anti- aircraft weapon. They also discovered two kilograms of heroin.
By early Saturday morning, at least one military company said it gained a small foothold in the town of Marjah, a place thought to be the last Taliban stronghold in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand. But as the company of about 200 U.S. Marines moved to increase its foothold in Marjah, insurgents fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades at them.
At the same time, in another part of Marjah, soldiers were also in a fierce gun battle with insurgents, military officials said. (Related: Why Marjah, why now?)
Five Taliban fighters were killed and eight were arrested in the early hours of the operation, said a spokesman for the Helmand province governor, Dawoud Ahmadi.
Military officials said the offensive got under way at 2 a.m. (4:30 p.m. ET Friday). In an effort to establish a foothold, troops launched air assaults followed by a ground offensive in rough terrain, a region dotted with canals. The fighting started quickly and there have been isolated firefights and attacks on troops. There have been sounds of sporadic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
–Journalist Mati Matiullah contributed to this report