By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 17, 2008 - As the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment continues to enhance security in Afghanistan, Marines there are experiencing decreased enemy engagements, the battalion's commander said yesterday. "We've killed or captured a lot of the [Taliban's] leadership," U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Richard Hall, commander of Task Force 2D Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, told bloggers during a teleconference.
Other possible reasons Hall cited for fewer engagements include the recent Muslim holiday of Ramadan, the beginning of winter in Afghanistan and the enhanced efforts of the Afghan National Police.
"We've now trained over 800 Afghan National Police and have placed them in various districts," he said.
Most people think that training and mentoring are not critical parts of counterinsurgency operations, when in fact, they are a subset, Hall said.
"The first thing is the force comes in here and establishes themselves and initiates the security piece, then what we had to do is we had to concurrently do the training and mentoring" of the Police, he said.
In addition to training, the Marines have initiated several other long- and short-term projects under strategies they call "focused district development" and "in-district reform."
The Marines have enhanced the Afghan economy, opened mosques, built schools, and are hoping to build a road, although that may not happen soon, Hall said.
"We're hoping to build a road here, probably not on our watch, but certainly on our replacements' watch," Hall said. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines will be replaced by the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in the near future.
Hall said that while he is constantly seeing improvement in his districts, there are still several challenges, specifically in recruiting for the Afghan Police.
"We really need to recruit from districts in which we are going to replace those [Police]," Hall added. "They get a good education, they come back, and there's an immediate change in the district when they go out there. All our guys that mentor them when they're back out in their districts have noted the significant improvements that are made."
As the Marine units prepare to rotate, a top priority is ensuring that the Afghan recruitment is done right.
"I think we got it right now," said Hall. "The next evolutions [in reform and development of districts] are going to be much more successful, and so it will be the way of the future in emplacing these [Police] in the districts, which becomes a foundation for governance at the district level."
To set the stage for the incoming Marine unit, Hall said his Marines would prepare training on lessons learned.
"We want to give them the proper introduction to the history, teach them the techniques and procedures that will keep them alive," Hall said. "And we owe that to our brothers."
In order to be successful, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines have to continue to do what the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines have done - focus on the Afghan people, Hall said.
"We have focused on the enduring effort, those things that will last, those operations which create a foundation for the future, like building schools, educating people, building roads, providing jobs, and aiding commerce," he said.
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Activity)