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    Marines see change in Bakwa



    Story by Lance Cpl. John Hitesman 

    Regimental Combat Team 3

    COMBAT OUTPOST BAKWA, Farah province, Afghanistan — The Marines here have found fighting insurgents alone won't bring peace in this region. Experience has shown that Marines must also develop strong relationships with the locals to bring about positive change.

    A platoon of Marines living here from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment — have gained the locals' trust and respect through kind acts and helping their Afghan neighbors with tangible, everyday problems. These same people who hid from them and even hindered their efforts a short time ago are now assisting them with information and access.

    Platoon commander 1st Lt. Marshal M. Pagaling believes that undoubtedly the activities of insurgent forces in Afghanistan are a problem, but to the average Afghan, stopping them is not a high priority. To them, survival of their families takes precedence. Simply putting food on the table is hard enough.

    Pagaling's Marines have performed more than 300 different types of missions in their area, but it wasn't until they started spending time with the people that things started to change.

    "When we first got here we would do multiple patrols a day," he said. "We would sometimes stay out up to 72 hours looking for the so called 'Taliban,' but the people were very standoffish. They didn't trust us as much as they didn't trust the insurgents."

    "At first the people seemed very wary, and their children did not leave their sides like they do now. Matter of fact, sometimes it was hard to even get the people to come out and talk," added Lance Cpl. Steven E. McElfresh, a squad leader. "Things are different now, and it took time to get it that way."

    Pagaling said the Marines learned that they needed to be more than just a force against the insurgents. They also needed to treat the people with respect. Through understanding the way they live and helping them solve their own problems, they would build trust and valuable relationships.

    "Things are different now. When we pull up, we do not have to find people to talk with. They gather and want to talk to us. The children come right up to us in large groups, and we recognize them and know them," said McElfresh.

    Another priority for these Marines is providing security for the contractors who are improving Route 515. Once finished, 515 will open up a safe highway for locals and coalition forces. The largest local bazaars in the area are at either end of the road — a distance of roughly 30 miles. Prior to being grated and smoothed, the only way local Afghans could get to these distant points to buy and sell produce, other foods and dried goods was by motorcycles, small vehicles and even wagons — none of which could be operated at high speeds because of the rough terrain and the road being littered with insurgent-placed bombs.

    "People never used that road because it was too dangerous," said Pagaling. "We were barely able to drive up it without incident."

    The Marines have been able to keep anyone from planting additional bombs on Rt. 515 with the help of the Afghan national police who have set up checkpoints along the road and local contractors who have successfully improved roughly 60 miles of it and Highway 1, the country's main artery.

    The people are now using this safe form of travel daily for things that used to take days to accomplish — visiting the bazaars and family or travelling to seek guidance from distant elders.

    "People use it all the time now, walking and driving," said McElfresh, a Partnersburg, West Virginian. "It is great. Getting somewhere that would have taken 45 minutes before, now only takes a few at the most. The road being done here has really helped us stay in touch with the villages around us, which also has helped us to further our relationship with the people."

    The Marines now try and spend as much time with the locals as they can, promoting gatherings of the elders at the district center and hosting key leader engagements to promote the unity of the people.

    "The changes that we have seen here are absolutely positive, especially what we have seen in the last couple of months since the road has been paved," said Pagaling. "We now push to unite the people, and the people with their government, because that is the biggest strength that they have against the insurgents that still exist in the area."

    The Marine Corps' presence here is still needed but the Marines are very satisfied to be able to say they can see a change for the better in this rural and unforgiving environment.



    Date Taken: 09.27.2009
    Date Posted: 09.27.2009 07:53
    Story ID: 39318

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