Thousands of US-led troops battling to capture a militant bastion in southern Afghanistan ran into fresh resistance today from Taliban "human shields" and hidden bombs.
US, Afghan and NATO generals spent months planning the assault on the drugs and Taliban nexus of Marjah, home to around 80,000 people in southern Afghanistan, which gave insurgents time to mine roads, buildings and trees.
Five days into Operation Mushtarak ("Together"), officers said progress has slowed because of multitudes of hidden bombs in the farming district of Helmand province that drug lords and the Taliban have controlled for years.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama will convene his war cabinet to assess the first major test of his "surge" raising the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan to 150,000 by August in a bid to end the eight-year war.
The meeting also follows the capture by US and Pakistani spies of the Taliban's top military commander. The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, which was confirmed by the Pakistani military today, could deal a huge blow to the insurgency that is trying to bring down the Afghan government.
On the ground, the top Afghan general in the battle on Wednesday accused the Taliban of hiding behind human shields.
"They have taken people hostage. Our troops have seen them putting women and children on the roofs of houses and firing from behind them," said General Moheedin Ghori, commander of the 4,400 Afghan troops taking part.