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Marines, Afghans see progress in Marjah

By Cpl. Daniel Woodall , 1st Marine Logistics Group

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Dec. 28, 2010 — CENTCOM

1st Lt. Elizabeth Stroud, combat engineer platoon commaner, Engineer Company, Combat logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), speaks with Afghan citizens in Trek Nawa, Afghanistan.

MARJAH, Afghanistan (Dec. 28, 2010) — Marines currently conducting operations in Marjah, as well as local Afghan citizens, are seeing noticeable improvements in the former Taliban stronghold.

In a recent Pentagon press brief, Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commanding general, Regional Command (Southwest), stated that combat operations against Taliban forces in Marjah are essentially over.

In February, coalition forces conducted a large-scale offensive in order to drive out Taliban forces occupying the rural community. Though coalition and Afghan forces continue to experience isolated resistance from Taliban insurgents, units operating in the area are conducting humanitarian operations and enhancing security measures to ensure the continued welfare and safety of Marjah’s residents.

According to one Marjah resident, 24-year-old Sharif, shopkeepers and farmers feel much safer since Marine units began operations in February.

“Before the U.S. got here [in Marjah], it was dominated by the Taliban,” said Sharif, through an interpreter. “I also remember when American forces first came here [in 2001]. The whole country was dominated by the Taliban. Since then, the government, the economy and our safety have greatly improved. The U.S. government helped us to fix a lot of problems [the Taliban] caused.”

Recently, the American presence in Afghanistan surpassed the nine years and 50 day-mark in which the former Soviet Union occupied the nation from 1979-1989. Critics of the current Afghan conflict have often drawn comparisons between the Soviet Union’s unsuccessful campaign and the future of current operations conducted by coalition and Afghan National Security forces.

However, contrary to the Soviet Union’s objective of invading and occupying Afghanistan for the sake of military or political gain, coalition forces have spent the past nine years conducting counterinsurgency and humanitarian operations. These operations, conducted jointly with Afghan National Security forces, aim to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and foster a self-sustaining nation free from terrorist groups seeking to use the area as a base of operations.

According to Dr. Mirwais Hasani, an Afghan National Army medical officer, the ideological contrast between Soviet and coalition operations is not only apparent to Afghan citizens, but also greatly appreciated. Hasani is a first lieutenant with the ANA’s 5th Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps – a logistics unit that frequently conducts operations in Marjah as well as other areas within Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“When [Soviet forces] arrived here, they did not care about the Afghan people or culture,” said Hasani, through an interpreter. “When we work with Marines, or when the [Afghan] people see them on patrols, it is clear they have information about our culture. They learn some of our languages, show us respect and have built hospitals and schools.”

Currently, the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion,6th Marines, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines and 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines are conducting security operations in Marjah and its surrounding areas. Personnel with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), are conducting civil development projects in Marjah as well as providing tactical logistics support to various units operating in the area.

These units, along with many others, will continue to train, advise, mentor and prepare their Afghan counterparts to assume exclusive control of their own country prior to the gradual withdrawal of coalition forces. Until then, coalition forces are striving to apply the same successes found in Marjah to the entirety of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.