Afghans lend hand to anti-Taliban efforts
02-17-2010 09:42 AM
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Afghans who had been under the rule of the Taliban for years in Marjah are starting to offer help to U.S. and Afghan troops, pointing out the locations of buried roadside bombs as fighting continues in the town.
“Most of the people know where they are already,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Rule, a Marine operations officer. “We’ve seen people come to the Marines and the [Afghan security forces] and tell them where IEDs are,” he said, referring to improvised explosive devices.
Rule suggested the development is a sign that the residents of this jihadist stronghold are feeling more secure that Afghan and coalition forces will remain to prevent the Taliban from returning.
“I am confident that [providing information] will be commonplace in Marjah once the clearing is over,” Rule said from this Marine base in southern Afghanistan. “People have chosen the Afghan security forces and its Marine partners.”
Marines from the north linked up Tuesday with U.S. units that have faced nearly constant attack in the four days since they were dropped by helicopter into Marjah, which the Taliban has used as a base for opium-poppy smuggling.
Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines moved through fields of hidden bombs and booby traps and braved sniper fire to join up with the same battalion’s Kilo Company.
“When it is daytime, there is non-stop contact until the sun goes down ... every day,” said Lt. Gordon Emmanuel, a platoon commander in Kilo Company.
About 15,000 NATO and Afghan servicemembers are taking part in the big offensive around Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people and the largest southern town under Taliban control.
The Taliban sowed hundreds of improvised explosive devices and mines, but did not attempt to defend the city with fortified positions throughout the area, according to the U.S. military.
“We were prepared for a much stiffer fight,” said Rule, who cautioned that the fight was not over yet because parts of the city have yet to be cleared.
Bismillah Khan, the Afghan army’s chief of staff, said the threat from roadside bombs and mines has made clearing the town laborious.
“We have captured the key areas, but [Taliban fighters] are still in villages with sporadic resistance, which we hope to end,” he said. “The enemy’s resistance has been crushed.”
Nevertheless, the Taliban has not given up. Snipers hiding in haystacks in poppy fields exchanged fire with Marines and Afghan troops as they swept south. Fighters tried but failed to shoot down an Osprey aircraft with rocket-propelled grenades as Cobra attack helicopters fired missiles at Taliban positions, including a machine gun bunker.
Marines and Afghan soldiers continued house-to-house searches, removing bombs and booby traps as they moved through town. Inside some compounds, squads found small doses of heroin, a Taliban photo album with fighters posing with AK47s, and large propaganda wall paintings of insurgents shooting down helicopters.
Residents said they were scared to be seen with NATO forces. As Marines searched his compound, one man, Wali Mohammad, warned a reporter, “Don’t take pictures or the Taliban will come back to kill me.”
The information from civilians about roadside bombs was coming in slowly, but that could change once residents of Marjah are convinced Afghan security forces will remain, Rule said. The Marines saw a similar pattern as they cleared areas last year in the southern Helmand River Valley, he said. Residents were wary at first but disclosed more information about the Taliban once they felt sure the jihadists wouldn’t return
Rule said something similar happening in Marjah would be a serious defeat for an enemy that once ruled Afghanistan and protected the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.
“It’s a knife through the heart” of the Taliban, Rule said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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