Marines still looking over shoulder for Taliban

MARJAH, Afghanistan Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:31am EST

1 of 10. A U.S. Marine from Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines takes his rifle after jumping through a gap in a wall during an operation in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district of Helmand province February 18, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

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MARJAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - It's only been six days since NATO launched a major assault against the Taliban and some Afghans are already asking Marines when they can reopen their shops.

But it's hard to say whether that's a sign the Taliban had faded away, or just a false sense of security in Marjah, the heart of the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province.

Bravo Company of the First Battalion, Sixth Marines, has not had it easy since they were ferried in by helicopter on Saturday to launch one of the biggest NATO missions designed to help stabilize Afghanistan.

They have come under repeated heavy gunfire and faced highly skilled Taliban snipers. The fear of being blown up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- some of the biggest killers in the conflict in Afghanistan -- has also bogged them down.

One Marine was killed on the first day of the operation with a single bullet to his heart. Another survived a close call when a bullet struck his helmet.

"We've secured the area of Koru Chareh (village) and are now working to open the bazaar back up. Today we've had local nationals requesting to know when they can open their shops again," said Marine Lieutenant Mark Greenlief.

NATO's largest assault in Afghanistan since the start of the war is aimed at driving the Taliban from their stronghold to make way for Afghan authorities to take over.

NATO said in a statement that a number of enemy fighters remaining in Marjah were engaging in direct combat, although combined forces have taken key areas.

Much of the success of the operation depends on winning the trust of civilians, by not only avoiding civilian casualties but by also listening to their every complaint.

Some have requested medical assistance. Those whose homes were damaged by bombs have been compensated, Marines say.

TALIBAN STEAR NEARBY

But the Taliban are not far away. And they have only one objective -- killing foreign forces to hold on to what Western countries say is a poppy cultivation center that funds their insurgency.

"We know the Taliban have pushed out of the village and are still operating around the area to our south, northeast and west," said Greenlief.

"But our main focus still remains on the people, improving their way of life and assisting them with their problems."

Marines are now comfortable enough to mount foot patrols. But the Taliban are unpredictable.

Marines have come across bullet casings from M-16 rifles -- a NATO weapon unlike the usual AK-47s the Taliban usually use -- suggesting the group has more sophisticated weaponry than previously thought.

"We still face a significant indirect fire and IED threat outside the pork chop," said Greenlief, referring to the area around Karu Chareh, shaped like a pork chop.

"As our company continues to increase its security in one area we will work to secure the rest of our battlespace."

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Bryson Hull and Ron Popeski)

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Comments (3)
XMarine wrote:
Americans safe back home who’s only thoughts are on how to pay bills for their consumer goods should be reminded these Marines and soldiers are at the front door of American foreign policy.

Some of these Marines and soldiers will go on to receive medals and promotions because of their work in this fight.

The military and civilian leaders in both the State Department and Department of Defense will congratulate each other on a job well jine.

Feb 18, 2010 5:57am EST  --  Report as abuse
postofduty wrote:
7 Steps to end the Afghan War

The current strategy is not designed to win the war but to maximize the profits of arms
and munitions makers. To end the war the following must be done:

1. Immediate draft all Afghan males and females 18 to 35. If they are not willing to fight and die for
their country, we certainly should not!
2. Give them six months of the best basic training in basic warfare.
3. Equip them with American made uniforms, handguns, rations, etc.
4. Keep all aerial capabilities and large artillery solely in US hands.
5. Parachute 500,000 well equipped Afghan soldiers behind the taliban on
the pakistan border and tell them to “fight their way home”.
6. Whoever wins becomes the real rulers of Afghan. Make them responsible
for now on for policing their territory and preventing terrorist camps in their country
7. Bring all American ground forces home in one year, keep aerial combat forces for 5 years.

Feb 18, 2010 6:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
Popsiq wrote:
From the photographs provided it would appear that the Marines are kicking-in the front door of American foreign Policy.

Given the number of casuaties reported it would seem that the Taliban opposition is either not all that skilled in marksmanship – snipers included, or that they are not present in numbers great enough to lay down an effective volume of fire. The Marines are, happily, in neither of those categories.

So it’s left to the imagination to consider the effects of the resultant counter-fire. Nobody’s reporting the destruction, other than that bazaar,which was repoorted to be ‘in ruins’.

Feb 18, 2010 9:12am EST  --  Report as abuse
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