Hundreds of French and Afghan troops pushed into a hostile valley in eastern Afghanistan where militants launch quick attacks, then disappear into hillside villages. The mission: secure the area for a planned bypass road around the Afghan capital to move supplies from neighbouring Pakistan.
About 700 French troops, joined by 100 Afghan soldiers, moved into the Tagab valley before dawn with more than 100 armoured vehicles. US and French attack helicopters roared overhead as insurgent snipers fired from the roofs of houses onto the advancing column of vehicles, according to a reporter for AP travelling with the French troops.
Just 50 kilometres from Kabul, the valley is seen as a launching pad for attacks in the capital.
"The objective is to clear the valley to be able to build the road, and checkpoints financed by the European Union," said Col Francis Chanson, head of France's 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment.
Construction has already begun in one of the safer parts of eastern Kapisa province.
The offensive, called "Operation Avalon", was led by the 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment, with elements of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Foreign Legion.
Intelligence officers estimated there were 60 to 80 armed insurgents directly on the column's path, said Capt Vincent, who went only by his first name because of French Foreign Legion anonymity rules.