Targets On Their Backs, Marines Enter Afghan Town The Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion" — are prepared for anything as they move into the southern village of Sorhodez in the Marine offensive to wrest Afghanistan's Helmand River valley from Taliban control.
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Targets On Their Backs, Marines Enter Afghan Town

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Targets On Their Backs, Marines Enter Afghan Town

Targets On Their Backs, Marines Enter Afghan Town

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It's day three of the U.S.-led offensive in the Helmand Valley River of south central Afghanistan. NPR's Graham Smith accompanied the 2/8 Marine Battalion as it moved into the village of Sorhodez(ph), and here's his report.

GRAHAM SMITH: On the eve of the offensive, after final battle briefings and rehearsals, the Marines walked across two kilometers of shin-high sand they call moon dust, to the edge of the helicopter landing pad where they slept, or tried to.


SMITH: First Sergeant Derrick Mays.

F: We already have the first four already on deck, so we should wait on the next three to show up here shortly. And they'll just start mounting the birds.

SMITH: Fox Company's first platoon is up and away. A half hour in the sky, then a banking fast descent to a green field, with two small fires burning in it from flares they've dropped.

U: Follow me straight ahead. Get up, let's go.

SMITH: They run through a furrowed field into a safer position. There's no enemy fire.

U: Watch your step, single file.


SMITH: Company commander Captain John Sun knows it's important to find out soon.

SIMON: Here's the deal. We've got about 30 minutes of air coverage. This is a pretty good spot in terms of cover and concealment, but not good enough. In about 10 minutes, start, do the cordon on the compound, you know, make that gate. And then we're going try to go talk to the owner.

U: Machine gunners!

SMITH: The Marines move across the road and into the courtyard, where Captain Sun knocks on the door.

SIMON: Okay, you ready?


SIMON: (Unintelligible) this is the gentlemen.

SMITH: His name is Daoud(ph). He is obviously nervous. The Marines are too. They're taking bets on when they'll get shot at.

SIMON: Guarantee you, in the next three to four hours.

SIMON: Yeah. I hope not. We got...

SIMON: Once they figure out we ain't going nowhere.

SIMON: But right now seems pretty good 'cause there's a lot of children and I don't foresee anything happening now. That's why we need all the time in the world to get a place set up and then start pushing out patrols. Get them before they get us.


SMITH: After securing the compound, Captain Sun, Sergeant Mays and a squad of Marines roll down the street past cautious clusters of men and young boys.

SIMON: A salaam a lakum.

SIMON: We are probably going to walk about another 200 meters or so, meet the local elder, and try to do some negotiations.

SMITH: The patrol reaches the house of the village leader but he's not home. Captain Sun approaches the village mullah, Zae Nudin(ph), hoping he may have a suggestion or some clout.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: Instead, he has a list of complaints: the police cause problems, the British forces killed a 10-year-old boy and his father two weeks ago, and he's afraid the Marines will bring the fight to his town.

SIMON: (Through translator) The problem is now that you're coming from this side and the Taliban coming from this side. Then the children and the families are scared because of that and this...

SIMON: It's going to take a little time to stop the Taliban, but that's why we're here, and we'll protect the people. We'll protect your people here in the village.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: Daoud finally agrees. The captain negotiates a two-week lease for a hundred dollars. The man is given a voucher to get more money from the provincial government.

SIMON: Just to be clear, we have the whole house, right?

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

SIMON: We really, really appreciate it.

SMITH: The Marines go back across the field to give Daoud time to move out.


SMITH: He takes three large cartloads of carpets, furniture and clothing away. Then Daoud approaches Captain Sun again. He wants to give the money back. When pressed, he explains...

U: They say that just get the money back because when you leave here, the Taliban will cut him because of helping you.

SIMON: We're not leaving.

SMITH: For NPR News, this is Graham Smith in the village of Sorhodez, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

SIMON: And to see photos of Fox Company Marines on the ground in Afghanistan, you can come to our blog,

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