By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2008 - U.S. Marines in Afghanistan face daunting challenges in legitimizing the Afghan police and turning them into an effective counter-terrorist force, but perseverance and focus have served them well, a Marine officer said Aug. 27. "Probably the biggest challenge has been the size of our area of operations," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard D. Hall, commander of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, said during a call with online journalists and military bloggers. "And to answer how we've overcome that challenge, I summed it up in one word: Marines."
Hall's unit has responsibility for recruiting, training and mentoring the Afghan National police and turning them into a credible force that the Afghan populace views as honest and capable.
"We want them to become a more proficient, respectable and legitimate force, which is really an extension of the government on the district level," Hall said. Significant progress has been made on the training mission, but full recognition by Afghan citizens will take time, he added.
On a more specific level, Hall said, the Marines face difficulties recruiting the right blend of people to keep the force geographically balanced.
"We can't always have the right amount of recruits out of each district, so we have to recruit from other districts," Hall said. "When they go through the training and come back, those ANP have an expectation that they are going to go back to the district they came from, and sometimes we cannot do that."
Fielding an appropriate number of coalition and Afghan forces to counter terrorists across a massive territory remains another challenge, Hall explained.
He added that more forces will be coming to extend security zones, as well as to assume control of other districts, which will restrict the enemy's movement.
Still, he noted, "The solution isn't going to be so much the numbers of people that you bring in here. ... It is the effect on the people that we have in the context of doing our mission, which is, I call it, turning four into 40.
"The bottom line is, we want to give these people liberty," he continued. "To create conditions where they can take responsibility of their own affairs and provide for their own future."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)