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04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

AT WAR: US Marines Airdropped Into Taliban-Held Territory

We are blogging the latest news about America's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Email us at AfPak [at] huffingtonpost.com. Follow Nico on Twitter; follow Nicholas on Twitter. See archives of 'At War' here.

First week's allied death toll. 12 NATO troops have died over the course of the first seven days of the offensive in Marjah, the New York Times reports. At least eight of these casualties were Americans; as noted earlier, the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is, according to icasualties.org, now 998. More than half of the deaths in Marjah occurred yesterday and today. More details on the fallen here.

6:00 PM ET -- Afghan press on the offensive. BBC has a round-up of reactions from Afghan media regarding the first week of the coalition offensive in Marjah.

Here's a sample of one from the Kabul Weekly:

Operation Moshtarak should be supported by all Afghans who are interested in living in a peaceful and a Taliban-free country... We need to consider this operation as the beginning of the end for the Taliban... The battle for Marjah and other districts in Helmand Province needs to be ours and these areas should be cleared of the Taliban and our troops should not be deterred by wishy-washy politicians.

1:00 PM ET -- Who might replace Baradar? AP details some possibilities:

-Mullah Mohammad Hassan. A former governor of Kandahar when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan who has both military and civilian experience. He studied in Afghan and Pakistani religious schools before joining the war against the Soviets as a commander in Kandahar. He joined the Taliban in the fall of 1994 and later was appointed governor of Kandahar. In 1996, he became the Taliban's regional governor for the southern zone.

-Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, also known as Mullah Abdullah Zakir and Mullah Qayyum. Rasoul, a native of Helmand province, joined the Taliban in 1995. He was seriously wounded in a 1997 bomb attack, but rejoined the insurgency in Kandahar in 1999. He was captured in Kunduz province in late 2001, and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was handed over to the Afghan government in December 2007 and freed.

-Agha Jan Mohtasim. A former Taliban finance minister who is reported to have family links to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As a government official, he had the power to control the flow of money and appoint deputy ministers. He was born in the late 1960s in Kandahar city.

-Akthar Mansour. Nicknamed "King of Planes," Mansour was the former Taliban minister of civil aviation and former director of military aviation. He is active in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces in eastern Afghanistan and is suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. Mansour is a former Taliban governor of Kandahar.

11:58 AM ET -- A grim milestone gets close. As of today, there have been 998 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan.

10:39 AM ET -- The fog of war in Pakistan. Joshua Foust at Registan.com masterfully highlights the confusion over a) how the recent captures of Taliban leaders actually took place and b) whether they are evidence of a shift in Pakistan's military.

For instance, check out these two graphs -- the first from the Washington Post, filed from Karachi:

The capture of senior Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan represents the culmination of months of pressure by the Obama administration on Pakistan's powerful security forces to side with the United States as its troops wage war in Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

The second from the New York Times, filed from Washington:

New details of the raid indicate that the arrest of the No. 2 Taliban leader was not necessarily the result of a new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban, or a bid to improve its strategic position in the region. Rather, it may be something more prosaic: "a lucky accident," as one American official called it. "No one knew what they were getting," he said.

Who to believe?

9:30 AM ET -- Marjah offensive day 7. From the AP:

Elite Marine recon teams were dropped behind Taliban lines by helicopter Friday as the U.S.-led force escalated operations to break resistance in the besieged insurgent stronghold of Marjah.

As the major NATO offensive entered its seventh day, about two dozen Marines were inserted before dawn into an area where skilled Taliban marksmen are known to operate, an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

9:25 AM ET -- Baradar won't be handed over to U.S. Nor will Pakistan hand over the other two top Taliban militants captured last month, though they may be deported to Afghanistan, AP reports.

9:20 AM ET -- Baradar capture a stroke of luck The Times reports that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was "not necessarily a sign of new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban", or, as the Times itself had previously suggested this week, part of a strategic effort by Pakistan to enhance its role in shaping Afghanistan's future, but instead merely a "lucky accident":

American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications saying militants with a possible link to the Afghan Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were meeting. Tipped off by the Americans, Pakistani counterterrorist officers took several men into custody, meeting no resistance.

Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself.

9:10 AM ET -- US strike kill Taliban leader's brother. We mentioned Newsweek's report yesterday about the US's latest drone attack in Pakistan which reportedly targeted the convoy of Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani. While it wasn't clear at the time whether or not Haqqani himself had been injured, the AP is reporting today that the missile attack did kill his brother, Mohammed. From the AP:

Four people were killed when missiles struck a house on Thursday night in the Dande Darpa Khel of North Waziristan, two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press. One of the dead was Mohammed Haqqani, the brother of Siraj Haqqani, the officials said.

It was not immediately known if Siraj Haqqani was at the house at the time, and if he was, whether he was hit by the blast, they said.

A local commander of Pakistani Taliban in Mir Ali -- a town in North Waziristan_ confirmed to The Associated Press that Mohammed Haqqani died in the missile attack with three of his associates on Thursday. A relative from Haqqani's family told AP his funeral was held near Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, and was attended by hundreds of residents and relatives.

9:05 AM ET -- Timeline for Marjah effort. A British general tells the Post that military forces will need about a month to be certain that "we have secured that which needs to be secured."

9:00 AM ET -- 4 NATO troops killed. The sixth day of the coalition offensive was the deadliest yet, with four NATO troops being killed during fighting in the push to take Marjah. Details on the NATO deaths from the Washington Post:

Three of the four deaths Thursday came in two separate roadside bombings; the fourth service member was killed by small-arms fire. The deaths brought the toll for the Marja offensive to at least nine NATO troops and one Afghan soldier. NATO did not release the nationalities of those killed Thursday, but a British soldier was among those who died.

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