Blanscet and his Marines have taken up position a stone's throw away from the village. Marines at COP Trubett refer to their tiny compound as "the crazy box" because the same small group of Marines has lived there without amenities for nearly two months. Blanscet says it took about 20 days of constant effort to break through and win the trust of the Daftani village. It now appears that trust is complete. Villagers often invite the Marines to lunch or bring them cold drinks and food to their tiny outpost.
The one thing the men of Daftani village have not done is join the local police force. Police recruitment across Marja has been an issue for Marines. They want more than 300 police on the streets here but so far only about 60 have signed up. Captain Ryan Sparks, on his 4th combat tour nine years, chalks up the low recruitment rates to the fractured nature of Marja, home to 30 or more tribes.
"Nobody wants to be the nail sticking out for the Taliban to hammer," explains Sparks. "While plenty of them will say they have young men lined up ready to join the police force none of them are ready to take that first step." The plan at the moment is to get several tribes to step forward at the same time while guaranteeing the security of their villages while the recruits attend training at a nearby Marine base.
Marines of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines are finally departing Marja after a difficult seven-month tour. They fought their way into Marja under harsh conditions, clearing the area of hundreds of Taliban fighters. During the tour 10 Marines from the 1/6 were killed in action and another 214 wounded.
Despite the hard fought progress Marines realize it could all be quickly reversed. Sgt. Dickinson believes Marines are close to a tipping point but not quite there yet. "I think it's going to be rather difficult to know when you've turned that corner," he said. "Once you see elders of different blocks come together and start providing their own security I think that's when you are going to see a kind of tipping point."
Sgt. Dawson considers success in Afghan terms. "Personally I think the locals aren't really that concerned with who wins. They just want to live their lives. If the Taliban wins they'll live by the Taliban rules. If we win they'll live by our rules. I don't know what the definition is for "win" in this place" he says then has a question of his own. "What would you consider a win?"
Producer Matthew McGarry contributed to this report.