Monday, November 9, 2009

1/5 Marines Inhabit Taliban Fortress

U.S. Marines walk down an alley during a patrol in the Nawa district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Sept. 21, 2009. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance.)

Dispatches from the Front:

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2009 -- Marines have an uncanny ability to call any place “home,” even if it’s a mixture of sand and gravel, or in this instance, a Taliban compound.

Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, have been operating out of what Marines refer to as “the mansion” here, since Aug. 1.

Local Afghans have told Marines the compound belonged to a drug lord who was having it built to house his entire family. However, the construction was never completed, because he was arrested and taken to prison. Marines were sent to the compound to clear it out, believing it was a Taliban stronghold. They expected resistance when taking over the compound, but were met with an empty home in need of some landscaping.

“It was a real mess when we first got here,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Jacob Mikesell, 22, a mortarman from Papillion, Neb. “There was grass growing up to our chests. The buildings had mounds of dust covering everything, and trash was thrown all over the place.”

The compound consists of two three-story buildings, which Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers inhabit. The two main buildings are made mostly of marble and concrete, and have wooden window frames and doors with designs carved into them. Colored tiles cover the outside. The compound is surrounded by gigantic walls, giving it the look of a castle from the outside. Marines can’t help but call their home a mansion.

“After we moved in, [local people] told us that most of the Taliban in the area had run away,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas Hine, a squad leader. “But we know there are still some here who are trying to coerce the population to go against us.”

Marines patrol daily to keep the surrounding area safe, and other forward operating positions rely on being supplied with food and water from the mansion. During local village visits, Marines promise to provide security and try to help the Afghan people with their issues and concerns.

“We try to get to know people by talking to them, learning where they live and understand what problems they have,” said Hine, a 24-year-old from Mohnton, Pa.

(Report by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. John M. McCall, Regimental Combat Team 7.)

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