By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
July 11, 2008 - The U.S. military's top-ranking officer met today with U.S. Marines based just northwest of here who are charged with the "critical, top-priority mission" of training the Afghan National Police. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Infantry Regiment, at Camp Barber to encourage the Marines and remind them of the important role they're playing in improving the country's security.
"You represent a different mission than other units," Mullen said to the Marines. "You're really on the leading edge of the kind of change that's going to continue with our presence here in Afghanistan."
The unit is one of two recently deployed Marine battalions that arrived in Afghanistan in early April. The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Infantry Regiment, based out of Kandahar is focused on counterinsurgency operations, while the 2-7th Marines' mission primarily is training. Both are the first U.S. Marine battalions to deploy to Afghanistan since the initial phases of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Marine battalions are operating in the Regional Command South battle space and are conducting their missions in areas that, in the past, haven't seen much U.S. and coalition force presence, Mullen said.
Because of the new force presence in the region, coupled with the freedom insurgents have to cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan, attack levels and casualty numbers have gone up throughout the past months, he said. Since their arrival, more than 50 2-7th Marines have been wounded, and 10 have been killed. However, their unique mission under the difficult circumstance of heavy combat hasn't deterred from their perspective and positive impact, the chairman said.
"I recognize the sacrifices you've made and the casualties you've taken," he said. "This is not just a basic training mission. We've got to get these forces up on their feet, so they can begin taking care of themselves."
Training the Afghan National Police isn't, by any means, an easy task, the admiral noted. Unlike Afghan army troops, who are known for their focus and being led well by their commanders, the police officers have been known in the past for their corruption.
"With respect to the police, they have a history of corruption, and they've had challenges with this in every local area and district," he said. "Up until now, they haven't been trained very well, so we start with a significant deficit, and it's going to take some time to catch up.
"The national police are significantly behind in police development and training and very much behind the [Afghan army]," he continued, "so what [2-7th Marines] are doing is a very critical, top priority mission in a very tough environment."
Mullen added that there is no more critical mission in Afghanistan than training the national police. He said the Marines' mission came about because of the growing requirement for police.
Although embedded police training teams made up of 10 to 20 U.S. servicemembers have been in place across Afghanistan and Iraq, the need to employ an entire battalion with the mission was a conscious decision made by U.S. military officials, Mullen noted.
The admiral commended the Marines for the impact they've made in the short period they've been here. Even with the recent spike in violence, the mission is well under way, he said, and the fact that the Marines have focused on training the police as well as taking the fight to insurgents has made them an extremely valuable asset, he said.
"[The Marines] are executing a vital, new changing mission, and they're doing it at the highest possible standard," he said. "I'm constantly inspired by their dedication and patriotism. Their ability to execute very tough missions in very austere environments continues to make a difference."