Marines in Afghanistan Not Waiting for Obama's Strategy

Off to the west is Bakwa where Taliban insurgents continue to operate, planting homemade bombs on roads throughout the area.

On the eastern edge of the AO is Now Zad, once Helmand Province's second largest city, it is now a ghost town. People living there fled when insurgents took over the town several years ago and turned it into a sort of "university" for bomb making.

The result: the town is now booby trapped with thousands of homemade bombs. Even if the Taliban left Now Zad, most here think it would take years to find and defuse all the bombs hidden in roads, walls and doorways.

There are smaller outposts here as well. Combat Outpost Barrows sits between Delaram and Bakwa. It probably has the rawest conditions of any place here: about six inches of what one Marine officer called "moondust" (the powder-like dust that blankets everything). As he put it "by the time Marines take a water bottle shower and get back to their tent they are sugar-coated all over with dust again."

Another factor complicating AO Tripoli is that it straddles three different provinces: Farah, Nimrooz and Helmand. This makes the Marine's mission tougher because rather than one provincial government to work with they have three.

But by far the biggest problem Marines face here is the threat of improvised explosive devices or IEDs. As in Iraq they are often buried in roads, but insurgents here also devise smaller IEDs meant to target foot patrols.

Delaram, the largest town in the AO, is the focus for the 3-4 Marines and a priority for the Marine Corps' top commanders. This dusty town sits on the strategically important crossroads of Highway 1, Afghanistan's largest, and the major roads that head west to Iran and south to Pakistan. The total population for Delaram and the surrounding area is estimated to be around 10,000.

The Model for Afghanistan 2.0

Downtown Delaram consists of a ramshackle bazaar where one can find just about anything and which strings along Highway 1 for about a mile. Aside from the Afghan National Police station there is a boys' school which sits empty and a girls' school which may only be used only for functions such as weddings.

There is also an Afghan Highway Patrol station in Delaram, which has a new chief from the capital Kabul. The local businessmen have banded together in a makeshift civic group, but most of their concerns have to do with the state of the bazaar and improving business. There is no town hall here, no city council, no real law and order.

Capt. Ryan Benson, commander of the battalion's India company, calls Delaram "the model" for everything the Marine Corps wants to do in Afghanistan. Benson and his company are tasked with stabilizing and building up Delaram and the surrounding area. He is hopeful that by the time his Marines depart in May the job will be done and the town of Delaram will be able to function more or less on its own.

Last Friday, Delaram's new government got off to a slow but promising start. After several aborted attempts, Marines transported the newly appointed district governor, a former communist named Asa Dula, from his home several miles away to new, makeshift living-quarters and government center attached to an Afghan National Police station in downtown Delaram. Sharing the compound is one platoon of Marines who have taken up full-time residence.

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