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It's a tough neighborhood for coalition forces in southern Afghanistan. The historical home of the Taliban and its putative leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, American and NATO troops have been increasingly bruised by fighters from the resurgent movement who attack, run and lay ambushes nearly at will.
The last substantial group of American troops who patrolled the area at the juncture of Farah and Helmand provinces was battered and bruised by militant attacks, hitting when they could, but absorbing casualties at a rate their small numbers could not adequately prevent.
Now, as part of an upcoming surge of as many as 10,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan, the new U.S. commander in the area says lessons learned from his predecessor's experience is putting him in a better position to knock the enemy down -- and keep him out.
"We're kind of the leading edge of the U.S. plus-up of forces in this area," said Col. Duffy White, commander of the Marine task force that recently deployed to southern Afghanistan. "I'd love to win hearts and minds, but I would really prefer at this point to win trust and confidence of the people; that we're here to help them, we're here to stay and we're here to help the Afghans find a solution to an Afghan issue."
For months, Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines labored to hold a huge operational area the stretched across three provinces. Dependant on their NATO allies for logistics, air and other functions, 2/7's commander, Lt. Col. Rick Hall, pleaded for more equipment and support - the kind of things Marines are used to having when they deploy as an expeditionary unit or a MAGTF.
Now, with White and his infantry battalion from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines and his logistics arm from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marines, coupled with Cobras from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 and CH-53E Super Stallions from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, there's a lot more he can do to not only clear the enemy out, but also to hold onto coalition gains.
"We are picking up from the success [2/7] had and now it goes a little bit beyond that because now we have a little bit more capability," White said during an exclusive interview with Military.com Dec. 15.