Marines Continue Afghan Offensive
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Melissa Block.
To Afghanistan now and the military offensive in southern Helmand Province. U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers are in the third day of the assault. They are trying to occupy what the military says is the regions last key Taliban stronghold but progress is slow. The district of Marjah is 70 square miles and insurgents have been firing on U.S. and Afghan forces while trying to lure them into fields and canals riddled with explosives.
NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is on the frontline. She's embedded with a platoon from the 3rd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment. And she joins us now.
Soraya, from your perspective how, is the offensive going?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Its its very slow going. And that today was particularly difficult day. The Marines that I was with were having pretty major fire fights for about six hours today. And they got to the point where they were receiving fire from multiple sides. Basically, they had to call in a Cobra attack helicopters to come in and assist them to help destroy the compound from which the fire was coming, as well as, they could retreat.
And unfortunately in the course of all this activity today there was one Marine casualty. I cant say anything more about that because of embed rules. But that they were also a civilian casualty. And, in fact, two dead children - one little girl who had severe abdominal injuries and other a wounded and the Marines did evacuate all of them to a better health care facility because obviously they dont have that out here in the field.
BLOCK: Soraya, there was also a report of a - an errant missile strike over the weekend where at least 10 civilians were killed. That attack prompted an apology from General Stanley McChrystal to the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. What else can you tell us about it?
NELSON: Well, actually, I've actually said 12 were killed. I think two might have died from their wounds later. Its one of those things again where Marines are trying to hit the right place and they dont. Its unclear to me in my position where Im at right now because this did happen at a different part of Marjah, exactly what happened.
But the Marines here that I was with, you know, at first frustration because they really are trying to minimize casualties. I mean, they do not fire on when they are fired upon. I mean, they look first to find out if they can see someone with a gun, you know, theyre very careful and every time they see civilians, you know, they stop, they look back. I mean, this is from a military perspective this, you know, its made it difficult because they have taken all these extra precautions in addition to, of course, all these IEDs and these bombs are, like, planted in the ground, in the walls and in the canals and everywhere else. I mean, its just made it very difficult for them to move forward and take Marjah the way theyre planning to do.
BLOCK: Is this proving to be a more difficult operation than they had anticipated there in Marjah
NELSON: Well, some say yes. No, I mean, I think that the anticipation was it would perhaps go a little faster and that there would be more cooperation from local people. But its this is an area where its very easy for guerrilla fighters, especially the way the Taliban use their tactics up against the running high and makes it very difficult for the Marines who have very strict rules about what they can do and how they can proceed, you know, for them to basically follow them to pursue and get them. So, its just going to be a very slow, painstaking process.
They have to clear these IEDs. I mean, even in the compound I was in the today, I mean, there were two that, in fact, were only 10 feet from where I was sleeping with about 30 other Marines that they had missed the previous day because theres so many of them, you cant find all of these IEDs very quickly. And thats just going to make this take I think a lot longer than Im sure they were hoping.
BLOCK: Thats NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She is embedded with the Marines in Marjah in Helmand province in Afghanistan. Soraya, thanks very much.
NELSON: Youre welcome.
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