Factbox: Five facts about Marjah district, Helmand

KABUL Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:45am EST

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KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S.-led coalition fought sporadic battles on Monday in the third day of one of the largest offensives so far in the eight-year-old war, targeting Marjah -- the last big Taliban redoubt in Helmand province, Afghanistan's most violent.

Here are five facts about Marjah:

* Marjah, an area of lush farmland criss-crossed by canals, is located in the center of Helmand province in Afghanistan's south. It has become a breeding ground for both insurgents and poppy cultivation. The troops began an assault on the town on Saturday in an effort to demonstrate the Afghan government's ability to reinforce its own security.

* Hundreds of families in Marjah fled their homes and farming fields to neighboring districts, but many stayed behind as urged by NATO forces. Fleeing villagers said Taliban fighters had planted many roadside bombs.

* Marjah sits near the dividing line between the northern part of the province, patrolled by a nearly 10,000-strong British-led NATO contingent, and the southern area patrolled by the U.S. Marines, who now number some 15,000.

* The U.S. goal is to take control of Marjah town quickly to re-establish the presence of the Afghan government and to provide public services to the estimated 100,000 residents in the area. British and Afghan forces last week said they were carrying out shaping operations in Helmand's Nad Ali district as part of an initial phase of Operation Mushtarak, or "Together", the name of the offensive to seize the entire district.

(Compiled by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Bryson Hull)

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