US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years
- US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years
By JASON STRAZIUSO
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (AP) U.S. Marines are crossing the
sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a
boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.
They hope to retake the 10 percent of Afghanistan the Taliban holds.
Some of the Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq. The newly
arrived forces hope to move into regions of Afghanistan now controlled
by the Taliban.
The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province
the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest
Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S.
intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan
much of that in Helmand.
"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make
Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the
expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter
Petronzio, the unit's commander.
Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27,
served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province
in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's
stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.
Lynch expects the Marines, who arrived last month on a seven-month
deployment, will help calm Helmand as well.
"If you flood a city with Marines, it's going to quiet down," Lynch
said in between sets of push-ups on Helmand province's sandy ground.
"We know for seven months we're not here to occupy, we're just here to
set conditions for whoever comes in after us."
Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles since losing
hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in
fall 2006, and it's not clear that Taliban fighters will stay to face
the Marines in regions they operate.
Lynch, a mobile assault commander, said he doesn't care if the
militants flee: "Just get the Taliban out of here, that's the biggest
Western countries, including the U.S. and other NATO nations, have
been sending more troops to Afghanistan as violence has escalated.
More than 8,000 people, mainly militants, were killed in
insurgency-related violence in 2007, the U.N. says.
The number of suicide attacks spiked in 2007, with the Taliban
launching more than 140 suicide missions, the highest number since
2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama
The U.S. now has 32,500 troops in the country the most since the
2001 invasion. In late 2006, Afghanistan had 40,000 international
troops. Today, that number is almost 70,000.
But Western officials have warned in recent months that the
international mission could fail. Washington has lobbied for NATO
nations to provide more troops in Afghanistan, and in particular to
add forces in the southern and eastern areas which have seen most of
the recent fighting against the resurgent Taliban.
The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that
neither Britain nor Canada which operates in nearby Kandahar
province have enough troops to control the region. But commanders
and troops say the countries are working well together.
British Capt. Alex West helped deliver supplies to a remote and dusty
firebase in Helmand province about a week ago.
"We spent the last operations borrowing kit (gear) off you, so it's
about time you borrow stuff from us," said West, 29, of Colchester,
England. "All of us have been in operations where the American have
helped us, so we're happy to help."
The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall
under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of
NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever
flashpoint he wants. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent
bases in the east.
The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by
ground convoys the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task.
Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two
Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15.
Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, the commander of the logistics battalion, gave a
pep talk to a supply convoy last week, hinting at operations to come.
"You all are gonna move down there so the BLT (battalion landing team)
can go in there and kick some Taliban butt," he said.
They have also been given directions to steer clear of the region's
poppy fields so they don't risk alienating local farmers who rely on
the cash crop for their income.
Counter-insurgency doctrine calls for forces to first clear a region
of militants, hold that region and then build up government
institutions and businesses. But the Marines are in the country for
only seven months, meaning they don't have time to hold and build
regions. But it's not clear if there are enough other NATO troops to
hold areas, either.
"We are the clear piece," said Clinton. "There are others who will do
the holding and building. We're clearing and doing some holding."
While riding in a 47-vehicle convoy through the sands of Helmand
province this past week, 1st Lt. Dan Brown said the terrain reminded
him of other missions.
"If you didn't know any better you'd think you were in Anbar right
now," he said, referring to western Iraq.
Afghanistan Mission Close to Failing - US
by Declan Walsh & Richard Norton Taylor
ISLAMABAD - After six years of US-led military support and billions of
pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and
President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the
country, America's top intelligence official has admitted.
Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30%
of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal
The Afghan government angrily denied the US director of national
intelligence's assessment yesterday, insisting it controlled "over
360" of the country's 365 districts. "This is far from the facts and
we completely deny it," said the defence ministry.
But the gloomy comments echoed even more strongly worded recent
reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former Nato
commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes"
were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".
Although Nato forces have killed thousands of insurgents, including
several commanders, an unrelenting drip of violence has eroded
Karzai's grip in the provinces, providing fuel to critics who deride
him as "the mayor of Kabul".
A suicide bomb at a dog fight near Kandahar last week killed more than
80 people. Yesterday fighting erupted in neighbouring Helmand when the
Taliban ambushed a police patrol. The interior ministry said 25
militants were killed; a Taliban spokesman said they lost one.
A day earlier, the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation aid agency
said it feared that Cyd Mizell, an American employee kidnapped in
Kandahar last month, had been killed in captivity.
A big injection of foreign troops has failed to bring stability. The
US has almost 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and - twice as many as in
2004 - while the UK has 7,700, mostly in Helmand. Another 2,200 US
marines are due to arrive next month to combat an expected Taliban surge.
Nato commanders paint the suicide bombs and ambushes as signs of a
disheartened enemy. Yesterday, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of
the British contingent in southern Afghanistan, said the Taliban were
"worn down", running low on fighters, and being ostracised by local
communities. "Logistically they are also challenged. The cumulative
effect of all of this is that they are having to change their modus
operandi, and that is why we are seeing more asymmetric attacks and
suicide bombings in places such as Kandahar," he said.
But analysts believe the Taliban is successfully adapting the brutal
guerrilla tactics that have served Iraqi insurgents so well. The six
British soldiers killed in Helmand over the past three months were
victims of roadside bombs. The drugs trade is swelling the Taliban
coffers - according to the highest estimates, 40% of profits, or tens
of millions of pounds, go to the insurgency. Attacks have made the
main road from Kandahar to Kabul too dangerous for foreigners. Afghan
truck drivers travel with armed escort.
The insecurity has penetrated the capital. Since an assault on Kabul's
Serena Hotel last January, westerners have disappeared from the
streets of Kabul. This week Taliban commanders threatened to step up
the campaign with more bombs.
The key to the Taliban's success, McConnell said, "is the opportunity
for safe haven in Pakistan". Meanwhile the surge in violence has
placed a big strain on Nato. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy,
has agreed to deploy a battalion outside Kabul after America has
criticised European states for refusing to join the fight in the south
and Canada threatened to withdraw its troops from Kandahar next year
if reinforcements do not arrive.
An Oxfam report yesterday said international and national security
forces, as well as warlords, criminals and the Taliban, were perceived
by ordinary Afghans as posing security threats.
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