Taliban Flees Marjah, Threat Remains For Marines In Southern Afghanistan U.S. Marines and their Afghan counterparts are tightening their hold on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, in southern Afghanistan. But hundreds of deadly homemade bombs, or IEDs, remain behind.
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Taliban Flees Marjah, Threat Remains For Marines

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Taliban Flees Marjah, Threat Remains For Marines

Taliban Flees Marjah, Threat Remains For Marines

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. In southern Afghanistan, U.S. Marines and their Afghan counterparts are tightening their grip on the crumbling Taliban stronghold of Marjah. Each day, troops uncover weapons caches left behind by Taliban fighters.

INSKEEP: One major threat to troops and local civilians remains, the homemade bombs known as IEDs - improvised explosive devices. Hundreds of them were planted across the 70 square miles of the Marjah district in the months leading up to the offensive. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson recently spent time in Marjah with India Company of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine which spent most of its waking hours dealing with IEDs.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Captain Bill Hefty commands India Company, which discovered the bombs and captured the militant holding a detonator.

BILL HEFTY: I wasn't shocked there were IEDs, but I was a little shocked they were completely set up for us to come north to south, straight up the middle. I thought they would have thought I was a little smarter than that.

SARHADDI NELSON: Outsmarting the Taliban in hopes of avoiding the deadly bombs is a full-time job for Hefty and his team. So is the hunt to find all of the IEDs in areas where the Marines and Afghan soldiers are forced to tread, says First Lieutenant Justin Gray, who is 27 and from Atlanta.

JUSTIN GRAY: We can see the guys that are shooting at us, but we can't see the stuff in the ground. You know, we have dogs and we have metal detectors, both great assets. But sometimes it's just luck, you know. But yeah, the IEDs are definitely the greater threat. It's harder to counter those than it is to counter small-arms fire.

SARHADDI NELSON: In the first three days of the offensive, Gray's men uncovered nearly 20 IEDs in a tiny village they captured from the Taliban. But there were a few they missed.

GRAY: Unidentified Man: Hey, listen up - everybody has got to push back that way.

SARHADDI NELSON: Gunnery Sergeant E.J. Pate from Mullins, South Carolina helps blow up the IEDs.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

PATE: They're probably going to find quite a few more in this area.

SARHADDI NELSON: And what is this exactly? Like how many pounds is this?

PATE: I'd say about 60 pounds. It's probably an ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder mixture, which is what they've been using so far. And it provides a blasting cap of some sort. And a pressure plate with a power source.

SARHADDI NELSON: Do you worry when you do this?

DAVID SOUTHERLAND: There is always some bit of worry, ma'am, but I feel that we are trained well enough to prepare for it, so - it is what it is. We're here to save lives and help people out.

SARHADDI NELSON: Juice containers, bullet casings - even single servings of instant coffee in aluminum wrappers - set off the detectors. But the good news, Southerland says, is their thorough search means they can clear this patch of road. He decides to spot-check an area nearby that was briefly swept by another patrol.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL DETECTOR)

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL DETECTOR)

SOUTHERLAND: I'm just going to double check it, because people have missed them in the past. Not good.

SARHADDI NELSON: It turns out to be the right call. Southerland has found an IED. To get rid of it he blows it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.

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