By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
American Forces Press Service
June 27, 2008 - The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines are disrupting the Taliban's freedom of movement in Afghanistan's Helmand and Farah provinces, the battalion's commander said today. "We expected that we were going to experience a lot of friction by the enemy," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard D. Hall told online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference, noting that until the 1st Marine Division unit arrived, Taliban operatives and other militants could operate as they pleased.
"We're disrupting that, and they don't like it," Hall said, "so they've been trying to come after us because of that."
He praised his Marines' fighting spirit, calling them "some of the very best of America."
"Their heart is absolutely unbelievable," Hall said. "When I have gone to the hospital to visit some of the wounded with the intent of cheering them up, bolstering their confidence, the exact opposite occurred. Their spirit was so great that I had shivers going through me after talking to these men. Their primary concern was ... 'How are the guys doing, ... and when can I get back?'"
Hall acknowledged that local police hadn't been effective, but said the focused district development police training program under way in Afghanistan will turn that around.
"What we're currently experiencing right now is a lot of change, and it's a good change," he said. "In a lot of the 2/7's districts, we have some positive things going on where previously they had relatively well-trained police -- but not mentored and certainly under the influence of corruption -- now about to be replaced with trained and respectable police."
Focused district development is an Afghan Interior Ministry initiative designed to improve policing in the country, district by district. It was developed by Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan officials to address issues of inadequate training, poor equipment and corruption, which made it difficult for the police to provide public safety and internal security.
"We have a couple of districts that are going through the transfusion of previously untrained police, sending them to a six- or eight-week training package and then reinserting them back into their district as trained and mentored police," Hall said. "We have several of our districts that are well under way. We have almost 300 police that are currently undergoing training right now, and we have another district that's about to receive its first group of trained police back into the district and to swap out with the placeholders there."
Highly trained Afghan national civil order police work in the districts while the local police are trained at regional centers. When the local police return, mentoling teams help them apply their training.
The increase in violence in their area is tied primarily to the Marines' operations, Hall said, explaining that that the Taliban aren't so much increasing their level of activity as much as the Marines are interdicting and disrupting their operation.
"Whether they're been trained and mentored for some time or they've just recently returned to their district, we are showing [the Afghan police] that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with them," Hall said. "That has given them a lot of confidence."
He added that the Taliban are ostracizing themselves in the villages where 2/7 operates.
"[They] are separating themselves from the people, because they are indiscriminately killing innocents," he said. "And they've shown that multiple times, with their suicide bombing right in the midst of the civilian population at a tremendous toll to civilians, not just our Marines."
The 2/7 has lost 10 men since assuming its current mission. Hall noted that one of those 10 was his interpreter, whom he considered one of his men.
"Although they're Afghans, they're still my people, so I feel the same about them since we work side by side and we are here for them," he said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)