On the third day of heavy fighting in the insurgent stronghold of Marja, the number of insurgents in the area has dropped by about half, American and Afghan commanders said today. Of the 400 Taliban fighters estimated to be in Marja when the Afghan-American operation began early Saturday, about a quarter have been killed and a similar number appear to have fled the area. Local Afghans were offering help ferreting out Taliban fighters—including most of the leaders—and hidden bombs, commanders said, but the Associated Press reports that the 15,000 allied troops faced sniper fire and their advance was reduced to a crawl. And intense fighting on the ground continued much of the day, suggesting that there were plenty of Taliban insurgents with fight left in them. The operation has been marred by reports that a NATO missile killed as many as 12 civilians.