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    Getting the word out in the Upper Sangin Valley



    Story by Cpl. James Clark 

    II Marine Expeditionary Force   

    SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan - Nestled along Route 611, one of the few improved roads in Northern Helmand province, sits Patrol Base Florida, a home away from home for the Marines of 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

    The Marines’ arrival at the beginning of winter, prior to the outset of Operation Eastern Storm, a coalition and Afghan National Security Forces effort to drive the insurgency from key territory in the Kajaki District, was greeted with suspicion at first. In the months that followed, crowds have formed outside the patrol base each day and double in size during the weekly shuras, or meetings, with approximately 50 local citizens in attendance, recently.

    “We’re starting to build pretty strong relationships with a couple key mosques,” explained 1st Lt. Edward Yoo, a platoon commander from Bronxville, N.Y., and a 2009 Bowdoin College graduate. “In the past, the Taliban had a lot more freedom of movement. At the first shura, security was a large topic, but after the first few weeks, as security improved and we built trust and rapport, we started turning from how we could help them, to how they can help themselves.”

    Marines of Company A reach out to mosques, store owners and even the local pharmacist to engage directly with the community, as these locations and individuals serve as the epicenters for social interaction. The proprietors of these establishments now feel a small sense of duty to their people to make the latest word known to the residents who frequent their establishments.

    With the district on the mend, and the local populace emboldened by a new and growing break in the violence, coalition forces are pushing the civilian populace to take a more proactive role in providing their own security.

    “Once we leave, they're worried about being singled out,” explained Yoo. “They have no model for a security system.”

    Sergeant Aaron Haubert, a civil affairs team chief from Arlington, Va., and a 2010 college graduate of University of Mary Washington, explained the situation in which the civilian populace is hesitant about taking part in security operations for fear of reprisal, but with the training they will receive puts them in a position to defend themselves against future threats and intimidation.

    “A lot of people are enthusiastic but apprehensive about taking the first step,” said Haubert.

    With the major concern of local citizens – security, improving steadily, the Marines of Alpha Company and their Afghan National Army counterparts have turned toward issues with infrastructure, namely medical care and education, with plans for a medical initiative later in the week, and the construction of a nearby school. Ultimately, resolving issues with infrastructure will lie with the Afghan government, which until recently had little presence in the district, leaving many feeling unrepresented and without a voice.

    “We’re focused on strengthening institutions that already exist and making them as strong as they can be. This area, because of past security concerns had no voice in the security council,” said Haubert, referring to the district’s local government, responsible for the security and stability within the region.

    “We are trying to get the representatives of the government to come out here. There are a lot of expectations, but a lot of small things need to be overcome. These people have a lot of hope for the [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.]”

    So far, appointed members of the Sangin District government and elected members of the local Interim District Community Council have been able to visit this area of the Upper Sangin Valley at least three times. The visits have been made possible by the new presence of ANSF and coalition forces. With Route 611 now secure, these officials will be able to drive north from the Sangin District Center and visit these far-flung villages more frequently.

    “With [Sangin District] elections in December, we’re hopeful that this area will get a seat or two at the table, and with that they'll be able to bring what they need to this area,” concluded Haubert. “It's hard and takes a long time, but in the end, when we leave it will survive.”

    Editors 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.



    Date Taken: 12.16.2011
    Date Posted: 12.16.2011 04:29
    Story ID: 81469

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