Marines Press Hard Across Southern Afghanistan Thousands of U.S. Marines are digging in for a drawn-out campaign in southern Afghanistan aimed at ousting the Taliban. It's the largest operation launched by American troops since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. The immediate goal is to drive out insurgents before next month's presidential elections.
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Marines Press Hard Across Southern Afghanistan

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Marines Press Hard Across Southern Afghanistan

Marines Press Hard Across Southern Afghanistan

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Jackie Northam is with the Marines and joins us now from Camp Leatherneck. Jackie, what is the scene like there today?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Basically they're trying to disrupt routes, they call them ratlines, that the Taliban has used to move weapons and forces into Helmand from Pakistan. And Helmand bumps up against the Pakistani border. And we're getting reports that the Pakistani military is also fortifying that border. So you know, the British forces are also trying to prevent insurgents from coming into Helmand from the east. So you have a lot of things going on here, but certainly this is a big operation by the Marines.

MONTAGNE: And what sort of resistance are the Marines getting from the Taliban?

NORTHAM: Well, military officials here are saying that there have been sporadic skirmishes, but mostly it's small groups of insurgents that they're encountering. Still, you know, a Marine was killed yesterday and there is an American flag flying at half mast here at Camp Leatherneck. And there had been number of injuries as well. But really, the Taliban for the most part is doing what it does and that's just melt away and wait it out, wait until the American forces leave. But this time the Marines say they are not leaving and they are going to hold the areas that they've cleared.

MONTAGNE: And that's part of the marching orders for the Marines - right, Jackie? I mean we've heard the term tactical patience being used. What does that mean exactly?

NORTHAM: For example, in some areas they're already building these tents. They call them shura tents. And essentially what it allows is for the local people to come, they sit under the big tent. They talk to the Afghan forces that are working with the Marines and others to just say, you know, what they think about the operation, what they want, what they fear, that type of thing. It's a very slow process to bring security to these regions and all this is sort of leading up to the August 20th elections. If there's security, these elections will go ahead, but it is going to be a very long process.

MONTAGNE: And you're talking to officers there at Camp Leatherneck - how are the commanders characterizing the first day of the operation?

NORTHAM: You know, they're very cautious in what they say - you now, it's just one day in. Again, it's a slow - it's not a full onslaught that they're seeing, you know, Taliban clashing against the U.S. Marines. It's a different type of battle that they're fighting here. It's slow, it's guerrilla warfare, and so they are being cautious. And I think that'd probably be the best way to describe it. Presumably they're quite satisfied with how it's gone so far though.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jackie Northam. She's at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine outpost in Southern Afghanistan.

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