U.S. Marines, Afghan troops to stay in Marja for months

By Alfred de Montesquiou
Monday, March 1, 2010

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN -- More than 2,000 U.S. Marines and about 1,000 Afghan troops who stormed the town of Marja as part of a major NATO offensive against a resurgent Taliban will stay several months to ensure that insurgents do not return, Marine commanders said Sunday.

Meanwhile, insurgents are striking back by attacking resupply convoys moving in and out of Marja with roadside bombs, Marines said Sunday. Four convoys have been hit in the last two days, Marines said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information. There was no word on casualties.

Two Marine battalions and their Afghan counterparts will be stationed in Marja and help patrol it as part of NATO's "clear, hold, build" strategy, which calls for troops to secure the area, restore a civilian Afghan administration, and bring in aid and public services to win the support of the population, commanders said.

On Sunday, the 1,000 Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment were fortifying positions to the north and west of the town, taking over compounds and building others from scratch to create a small garrison, known as a forward operating base, as well as combat outposts and a network of temporary patrol bases, said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, head of Lima Company.

Another battalion was doing the same to the south of Marja, Winfrey said. About 1,000 Afghan troops will accompany the Marines, he added. In addition, about 900 Afghan paramilitary police are already patrolling Marja.

Marine spokesman Capt. Abe Sipe said a more permanent military outpost will facilitate a long-term NATO presence in the town.

"We are going to have a presence in Marja for some time. There's no plans for anyone to pull out," Sipe said. "The idea is to live among the local nationals because we found that's the best way to partner with local security partners to make Afghans feel safe and not under threat." Marja residents had told government officials that they preferred NATO troops to be based in the town itself, instead of being outside, to provide better security.

Winfrey said he has been told that the entire battalion expects to be stationed in Marja until the end of its deployment in August.

In other violence, 11 members of one family were killed Sunday in southern Helmand province when their tractor, with a truck-bed hitched to the back, hit a roadside bomb, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. All aboard died, including two women and two children.

Ahmadi said the Sunday incident occurred in Now Zad district, significantly north of the area where international and Afghan forces launched their military push against the Taliban.

In central Zabul province, a joint Afghan-international force engaged in a gunbattle Sunday with insurgents in the Khaki Afghan district, killing six, said provincial government spokesman Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar. The previous night, eight Taliban members were arrested, he said.

One Afghan soldier was killed and another was wounded after their vehicle hit a roadside bomb Sunday near the provincial capital of Qalat, Rasoulyar said.

-- Associated Press

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