KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan - As part of Obama's Afghanistan war surge, some 9,000 marines are moving into small Afghan towns near the border to stop Taliban soldiers and supplies coming from Pakistan.
For Taliban fighters infiltrating Helmand Province from Pakistan, one ratline proved simple.
They crossed open desert of pebble, sage, and moon dust toward a lonely mountain ridge, and entered Khan Neshin, a gateway to both the Helmand River Valley and one of the bloodiest corners of the Afghanistan war.
In July, though, US Marines seized towns along the Helmand River in a bid to shut down a central problem of the war: the cross-border flow of fresh fighters.
But their march stopped at Khan Neshin, 70 miles short of the Pakistan border, slowing but not shutting down Taliban traffic. Now, some 9,000 of the new troops surging into the country are heading to Helmand to expand security and finish the march south. The scope of the time and manpower dedicated to the effort underscores just how difficult it is to secure the 1,600-mile frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“We have to get down to the border. We have to establish a legal border crossing point, so that if you try to bypass it, it becomes an illegal activity,” says Lt. Col. Michael Martin, the commanding officer in charge of 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the Khan Neshin area. “You start to squeeze off the insurgency’s ability to resupply itself.”
But it’s not as simple as dropping troops into new border outposts. Such posts have been tried before, only to have Pashtun towns deep inside Afghanistan begin to fall to the Taliban, cutting off the remote coalition outposts from behind.
This time, the goal is to secure and win over populations all the way from the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, to the isolated southern border, explains Martin. Khan Neshin will become a safe place to refuel and reconnoiter before the final leg to the checkpoint being built 10 miles north of Baram Shah, a Taliban drugs and arms border bazaar.
“So it’s just one of these things that has to happen incrementally – it’s not something where we can just wish it, snap our fingers, and there you go, you’ve got a border-crossing site,” says Martin.To read full Christian Science Monitor story — Go Here Now.
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