WUSHTAN, Afghanistan - During a halt in a security patrol here May 18, Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Barth, a native on New Albany, Ind., sat down next to Muhammed Hasim, one of his counterparts with the Afghan National Army, and struck up a conversation.
Though Barth is not fluent in the Dari language, he knew enough to be able to make jokes with Hasim.
Soon, the Marine and soldier were laughing together, and a crowd of Afghan children gathered to see what was going on. Hasim and the other Afghan soldiers handed out food and candy to the children while others soldiers and Marines spoke with adults of the village.
Barth is a team leader serving with Animal Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. He acts as an advisor and liaison to Afghan forces serving alongside Marines.
During Operation Sangin United Horizons, Marines and ANA forces entered the town of Wushtan to investigate insurgent activity. Terrorists operating throughout the region were known to use Wushtan as a staging point for attacks in Sangin, Kajaki, and Musa Qa’leh.
Marine patrols were accompanied by detachments of ANA soldiers, searching for insurgents, weapons caches and hidden stockpiles of narcotics. When a compound needed to be searched or a local civilian needed to be spoken to, Barth and the ANA would take the lead.
“The ANA assisted us in moving in and establishing a baseline,” said Capt. Peter Ankney, commanding officer of Baker Company. “Their ability to get in there and talk to people and get things done brought us to a different level than we could have done without them.
The Afghan soldiers have patrolled Wushtan before, so they were familiar with the area. That familiarity helped patrols move smoothly and efficiently.
Barth always makes sure to keep a positive attitude and be approachable to the Afghans during patrols.
“Whenever the civilians see me joking around and talking with the ANA they will be more willing to come and talk to me,” he said.
Barth said having a good relationship with the local population helps Marines and ANA gather information and limits the ability of the insurgency to operate in the area.
A large part of bonding with the civilian population comes from interacting with the children.
“We want the people to like us,” Barth said. ”If the kids all like it when the Marines come around, the adults will see that. They will see us give them candy and have fun with them and show them we are good people.”
The ANA have learned from the example set by Marines, and also make an extra effort to connect with the civilian population.
Barth and the ANA he patrols with frequently come across groups of curious children. During one patrol, Hasim opened a bag of rations and began handing out the food and candy inside to a group of laughing children. Even after all the food was gone, the crowd of children remained, asking questions and playing games with the Afghan soldiers.
Barth said it isn’t hard for him to connect with the people of Afghanistan.
“The people are very hospitable to us,” he said. “Anything they have, they offer to share with you. Even when they really don’t know you they will offer to bring you in and give you things. That’s just their culture and that’s who they are.”
As the operation ended and the Marines and ANA left the town, Mohammed Ikhahlas, a local farmer, offered to let the tired troops rest in his compound. He said the ANA and Marines help the people of Afghanistan, and he wanted to return the favor.
Barth said his most meaningful connection has been with his brothers in arms of the ANA he serves alongside each day.
“We have a good friendship’” Barth said. “We go on patrol together all the time, so we have built trust. I trust them with my life.”
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This work, Indiana Marine builds bonds with Afghans, by Cpl Tyler Reiriz, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.