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U.S. Commander Sees Progress, Challenges

The commanding general of the U.S. Marine advance into Helmand Province said today he expects the operation to shift to a new phase following a few more days of “very tough work” in rooting out Taliban fighters.

Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said the Marine units would soon shift their focus from flushing out the Taliban from villages along the Helmand River valley and turn to the work of improving the lives of local people.

“We’re just trying to clean up a couple areas that we think the Taliban have been pushed into,” said Nicholson during a visit to Garmsir District in southern Helmand.

“We have about three or four more days of very tough work, then I think we will move into what we will consider framework operations,” he said, referring to counterinsurgency missions aimed at increasing security, governance, and economic well being for the population.

The operation in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province involved more than 4,000 Marines who staged a major assault over the past two weeks into areas long controlled by the Taliban. The aim is to establish security and government presence in the Taliban heartland, and gradually to extend government authority south to the border with Pakistan.

Nicholson said he was encouraged at how the operation has unfolded over the last two weeks. “Frankly, we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at,” he said.
But he said major challenges remain.

A top priority in coming weeks will be to track down the networks that have been placing roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices. The bombs are killing Afghan civilians and security forces as well as Marines, and are also impeding the use of roads.

“Finding and eliminating the IED cells is going to be one of our principal jobs,” he said. “The IED problem is real. Eighty percent of our casualties are caused by IEDs.”
Another challenge as the Marines establish themselves in outposts will be to convince skeptical Afghan villagers that they are here to help for the long run. Nicholson said that most civilians who the Marines encounter seem either positive or neutral about the increased military presence.

“It’s a very pragmatic people and they are not going to jump on any band wagon,” he said.

By Ann Scott Tyson  |  July 16, 2009; 4:55 PM ET
 
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Comments

“We have about three or four more days of very tough work, then I think we will move into what we will consider framework operations,”
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Such hogwash.

Posted by: ridagana | July 17, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

hogwash?

Posted by: g3impreza | July 17, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

i Think if we can find the IED cells we will be fine. Taliban dont have any tanks or anything so they use the IEDS like cowards. Once we get rid of them, i doubt there will be much more concern for our troops. 80 percent is a lot so i think that mission will be especially important for the future of our marines.

Posted by: g3impreza | July 17, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

the VC didnt have tanks either... that turned out great... All of this sounds too similiar to the early part of the Vietnam war

Posted by: cjs58 | July 17, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

This is like Vietnam? How is that? The Helmand River supports a minimal amount of vegetation along its banks is surrounded by harsh dessert. There is not Superpower to provide arms to the Taliban/Al Qaeda and no easy way for them to get arms, men and material into the area from Pakistan while NATO troops are there in force. This is not anything like Vietnam. The Vietnamese did not attack innocent US civilians at home, the people we are fighting DID. We don't have much of a choice but to be there and win. csj58, what are we supposed to do?

Posted by: gene7 | July 18, 2009 12:46 AM | Report abuse

Considering the threats at home to the US Constitution and democracy, it's amazing American troops are in Afghanistan and Iraq at all.

Posted by: HassanAliAl-Hadoodi | July 18, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Nice story but you failed to mention that it's the Army doing most of the fighting and dying in both our wars! As of 17 July, there have been 552 Soldiers killed in Afghanistan while only 91 Marines, 48 Sailors and 47 Airmen have been killed there.

I would add that another 3142 Soldiers have also been killed in Iraq while 1019 Marines, 100 Sailors and 51 Airmen have been killed there. Very few Marines are left there and only one Marine has been Killed in Iraq since April while 42 Soldiers have been killed.

The Army is doing a disproportionate share of the fighting and dying for this country in these two wars although I am delighted to see the Marines have decided to rejoin the fight in Afghanistan after having been "missing in action" for the past several years.

As for the comment above: "This is like Vietnam," Afghanistan is nothing like Vietnam. The total US KIA in Afghanistan since 2001 is 738. That is exactly the same number we lost in Vietnam in the first 16 days of 1968.

Posted by: A-COL | July 19, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

The key component is Pakistan. As many of you know, the "border" between Pakistan and Afghanistan is just open territory. The money used in Helmand and along the border is Pakistani. Many who live along the border consider Pakistan their second home-many have families who live in Pakistan full time.

That said, the Pakistani people must along with their government stops harboring Taliban (meaning.."those who seek religious knowledge") who are idelogically radical Sunni Islam Wahabbi followers.

Other milestones:

(a) Integrate Afghan National Army (ANA) into a visible force/peace keepers/security;

(b) Build a model of infrastructure development; use this "model" as a proof source to other ares/regions

(c) Cross border cooperation with Pakistani-US forces.

Paktia/2003

Posted by: LTC-11A | July 19, 2009 4:56 AM | Report abuse

I didn't realize that as Americans that now we are arguing the fact over which branch of service is losing the most soldiers, marines etc. There are men and women fighting for our country period. That should be enough said. Not to sit there and say this branch has lost this many and this branch has lost that many. My husband has been to Iraq three times and now to Afghan. He just got home last October and left in May again. So don't sit there and talk about who has the most casualties. My husband is serving his country unselfishly. FYI the Marines were not "missing in action" the passed few years in Afghan. But, the Marines are getting the job done aren't they?

Posted by: marinewife1 | July 19, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

All counterinsurgencies are basically the same in principle, whether Vietnam(a comparison occuring increasingly now) Afghanistan with the Soviets, and now Afghanistan with the Americans. Local conditions will of course vary each time, but the basic job will always require foot soldiers with boots on the ground, doesn't matter whether they are Army or Marines. Does America have enough of them? And how long are they prepared to stay in-country? Casualties WILL happen - which leads to the next question, when do the next Presidential elections come around?

Posted by: shankar1 | July 21, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

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