BANGI, Afghanistan -- Hundreds of U.S. Marines landed by helicopter Sunday near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the spiritual home and power center of the Taliban, a senior U.S. official said. As many as 1,000 troops could be on the ground there within days.
The official would not disclose the troops' mission, but their arrival was the largest deployment of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war began Oct. 7.
The war thus far has been conducted primarily from the air.
Kandahar has come under fierce bombardment during the war and the Taliban have vowed to fight to the death rather than abandon it.
Abdul Jabbar, an anti-Taliban Afghan tribal official in Pakistan, said his colleagues in Kandahar confirmed that U.S. troops were on the ground.
The Marines, numbering in the "low hundreds," were to be followed by several hundred more from Navy ships in the Arabian Sea, the official said. The Marines landed by helicopter southwest of Kandahar, the official said.
The deployment was the largest announced U.S. mission on the ground in Afghanistan since the war began. Hundreds of U.S. special forces are believed to have been in the country for some time.
The arrival of U.S. troops came as the northern alliance claimed to have seized Kunduz, the Taliban's last northern stronghold, after a two-week siege.
The fall of Kunduz, which came two days before talks were to begin in Germany on forming a broad-based government, leaves the Islamic militia with only a small slice of Afghanistan still under its control, mostly around Kandahar.
Thousands of Taliban troops as well as Arab, Chechen, Pakistani and other foreign fighters linked to Osama bin Laden had been holed up in Kunduz, which the alliance said fell almost without a fight.