MELISSA BLOCK, host:
South of Dahaneh, where Soraya is, the Marines of the 2/8 Battalion are farther along in the fight. They've been there for over a month. They've established forward operating bases, working with Afghan security forces and villagers to try to stabilize the area.
We've been following the Marines of the 2/8 Battalion since before this deployment when they were training at their home base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And now joining us from Marine headquarters, Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, is the battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss. Thanks for being with us.
Lieutenant Colonel CHRISTIAN CABANISS (Commander, 2/8 Battalion, U.S. Marines): It's great to be here.
BLOCK: And just to clarify, Colonel Cabaniss, your Marines are not involved in the new offensive that Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is describing for us.
Lt. Col. CABANISS: No. The Marines' insiders of 2/8 are still engaged in the areas that we went into on the 2nd of July.
BLOCK: And what sort of resistance have the Marines where you are been running into lately?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: We've had fairly significant resistance from pockets of Taliban fighters. It's hard to say if they're just really well-trained locals or if they're perhaps from somewhere else. But it's not overwhelming. It is counterinsurgency, you know, small groups will come and attack us.
But our main effort still is behind seizing control of the population away from the Taliban and winning the consent of the local population. Because by doing so, we're going to have more security than Hesco barriers or body armor will ever give us. Because once we have the people on our side, the Taliban will no longer be able to move in the area.
BLOCK: You mentioned Hesco barriers just now. These are sandbags?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: No. They're metal on the outside and occasionally you fill them with rock. The country of Afghanistan is covered with Hesco. It's how we can build when we move into a new area: the engineers are able to move in and build an operating base for the Marines that they can work out of. And it's difficult in this environment here. It's just because we're in the Green Zone.
And the only person, I think, that's got a good appreciation for the Green Zone and has really shown it to the world is Dave Gilkey from NPR. It is just terrain unlike anything else in Afghanistan: very compartmentalized, irrigation canals, green fields, trees, bushes. In many ways, it reminds me of eastern North Carolina. And I think it's surprising when you see it. It's probably some of the most challenging terrain that, in my mind, the Marines have fought in since World War II.
BLOCK: You mentioned David Gilkey. He's the NPR photographer who was with Echo Company there, and when he filed his reports, he talked about running into a whole lot of IEDs. Are you still finding that - a lot of roadside bombs?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: Yes, that's the weapon of choice for our enemy. He obviously cannot stand and fight us in a large group because that will be a very quick fight, and it would be over. So, his attempt is to limit our movement.
One advantage we have is that we planned to move cross-country and stay off the roads. Because in this country, the roads in our area really don't give us an advantage. I think that's a mental image. It's hard for people to understand because they associate Afghanistan and Iraq so closely. But in our area, 90 percent of our operations plus are foot mobile.
BLOCK: Colonel Cabaniss, what kinds of casualties have you seen in your battalion?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: You know, it's unfortunate, but we've had, you know, our share of casualties. But they've been kind of balanced between IEDs and direct fire.
BLOCK: And how many Marines have you lost?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: I've lost 10 Marines so far in the operation.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. In a little over a month?
Lt. Col. CABANISS: Yes.
BLOCK: I would think that number would be pretty daunting, Colonel Cabaniss, as you look ahead.
Lt. Col. CABANISS: No. I think the Marines' insiders of my battalion are some of the most adaptive people in the world. It is a challenging environment, but we get better and better every day. You know, every casualty is, you know, it's hard on us, because it's one of our brothers. But I think they carry the spirit of those Marines with them and help them complete the mission, because I think that's the way that we honor our fallen heroes is to complete the mission: to drive the Taliban out of the area, to help bring tangible progress to the people and to create conditions for the units, or agencies that follow us, so that they can continue to take progress to the next level.
BLOCK: Well, Colonel Cabaniss, thanks for talking with us.
Lt. Col. CABANISS: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss. He is the commanding officer of the 2/8 Marine Battalion which we've been following this year. He was talking with us from Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan.
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