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    Operation Eastern Storm returns commerce, residents to Kajaki Sofla Bazaar

    KAJAKI SOFLA DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN

    11.01.2011

    Story by Cpl. James Clark 

    Regimental Combat Team 8

    KAJAKI SOFLA DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Columns of mopeds, caravans of pack animals, and an endless stream of trucks, tractors and trailers heralds the return of local residents to the Kajaki Sofla District.

    The area was nearly a ghost town when the Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and Afghan soldiers inserted during Operation Tofan Sharq (Eastern Storm). In recent days, however, there has been a slow, but steady return to normalcy as the insurgent threat in the area has been systematically eliminated.

    The goal of this major offensive operation is to force the Taliban-led insurgency in the Upper Sangin Valley region out of Kajaki. Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces pushed north from Sangin along Route 611, clearing insurgents out of the area along the way and securing the road leading to the once-terrorized village. The offensive has allowed local residents to return to their homes and brought commerce back to the local bazaar.

    The bazaar, a major hub for the local community, is a clear indicator of the operation’s success thus far. The number of people shopping and selling their wares, the reception Marines and ANSF members receive when they pass through, and the number of local residents who hang around when coalition forces are present, serve as indicators of the improved conditions.

    With the majority of insurgent forces on the run, having fled since the outset of the operation, the Marines find themselves with a rare opportunity. They currently hold the momentum, and, at the moment, are blessed by a break in the violence. This valuable time is allowing the Afghans to focus on bolstering ties that, with care, can grow into lasting bonds between the local leadership and their representatives in the Afghan government.

    “What we have and [the insurgents] don’t is presence,” explained Townsend, Mass., native Capt. Paul Tremblay, company commander, Bravo Company, 1/6. “It’ll only be a matter of time before the (local residents) will gain more confidence. Right now they’re extremely ecstatic that we’re here, but like with anything else, it’ll take a few weeks before we start to see active participation on their part.”

    The ultimate goal, explained Tremblay, is to have members of the local populace take charge, to take ownership over their community and no longer live in fear of reprisal from insurgent forces operating in the area.

    “We’re trying to identify who those people are who, for whatever reason, want to be active participants, those people who want to be good Samaritans,” explained Tremblay, who originally enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1996 and later graduated from Virginia Tech in 2003. “Once we identify them, we can bring them into the fold, make them the ad hoc leaders and voices.”

    Another goal for coalition forces in the area is to bring the region’s youth into the fold, an oft ignored group within the more traditional Muslim culture.

    Due to a rising feeling of disempowerment within this group, some young men between 14 and 30 have rallied to the Taliban’s cause. Unlike traditional Muslim society, in which community elders have the voice, the insurgency offers these young men instant gratification through promises of both power and money.

    The key, explained Sgt. Chris Gonzalez, the civil affairs team chief in support of Bravo Company, is to find constructive roles for these boys and men within the community in order to foster ties between the younger generation and the Afghan government and, in doing so, take away from the insurgency’s main recruiting base.

    “You have three types of Taliban fighters: the foreigners who come over here solely to fight us, the diehard believers who are from the area, and finally the majority of their fighters who join mainly due to economic opportunities,” said Gonzalez, a resident of Arundel, Md., and a 1996 graduate of Arundel High School.

    The Marines are working to support government of Afghanistan efforts in the region to provide jobs and establish long-term institutions to train and educate individuals who can then better their communities. However, the district must be at the right stage before trade and vocational schools can be established, according to Gonzalez.

    “We have to set the building blocks so they can continue when we’re gone,” Gonzalez explained. “To do that we need Afghan counterparts.”

    For more information concerning Task Force Leatherneck operations, please contact Task Force Leatherneck public affairs officer Maj. Bradley Gordon at bradley.gordon@afg.usmc.mil.

    Editor’s note: The 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward)/Task Force Leatherneck. Task force Leatherneck serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 11.01.2011
    Date Posted: 11.01.2011 08:07
    Story ID: 79375
    Location: KAJAKI SOFLA DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, AF

    Web Views: 1,408
    Downloads: 1

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