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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Asia

Rick Leventhal

New York, NY

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The Surge is On in Afghanistan

May 27, 2010 - 9:27 AM | by: Rick Leventhal

If you’re wondering when the U.S. Military is beginning it’s surge in Afghanistan, wonder no more.  It’s on.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard more about battles with the Taliban, it’s complicated.

There are tens of thousands of Marines fresh on the ground in Afghanistan, including more than 13,000 in the Helmand River Valley, under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Osterman.  Many of these Marines are now laying the groundwork for future operations and establishing relationships with local tribal elders and government officials.

“A lot less kinetic activity (like gun battles)” says General Osterman, in an exclusive interview with Fox News Channel at Forward Operating Base Payne, “and much more on the non-kinetic side, which the Marines have been doing a great job with.  Very sophisticated in their approach.”

Like developing local governments and local economies.  ”Not as glamorous or sensational as clearing operations..” the General says, but far more important long-term.

The Marines are working every angle.  They’re offering seed to farmers at a cut rate price and offering classes on how to better work their land.  They’re having sit-downs with tribal elders to establish trust and spread the word that they’re here to establish security and provide aid, asking in exchange that locals share information on Taliban insurgents.

And the Marines are spreading out across the blistering hot desert in Southern Afghanistan, on twice-daily foot patrols and in their imposing and lethal Light Armored Vehicles like the LAV-25’s, stop-checking people and traffic, disrupting insurgent supply lines and gathering intel that can help prevent future attacks.

“It’s a slow build of confidence… we’ll establish a security presence, patrolling, talking to people and it almost creates a security bubble.  Within that we find more and more people will talk to us and it gets harder and harder for the insurgents to work against us.”

So far there’s been very little push-back from the enemy in this region south and west of Kandahar, but the General expects it’s coming.

“The first thing they’ll do is try to stand up to us, do attacks and very rapidly realize that’s a losing proposition because we end capturing and killing quite a number of them and then what they generally do is move into a more indirect approach, use of the IED’s (improvised explosive devices, like roadside bombs), then they start to move into desperation mode… they get into a murder and intimidation campaign.”

That’s already happening further north in Marjah, but the General says this won’t last long.  ”It’s a losing proposition.  They very quickly alienate the population…” and that’s when the Marines believe they can help the Afghanis stand up and reclaim their country for themselves.

To the critics who point to Marjah as a failure, the General shakes his head in surprise.  ”My sense of Marjah is that it’s a success story.  We’re less than 90 days since we first started that assault.  Too often people forget where we started.  Marjah was a Taliban enclave.  Completely run by the Taliban, completely governed by the Taliban, completely involved in the opium trade and in less than 90 days we now have a functioning government… we’ve opened up a number of schools… all the bazaars are thriving… there’s two, three thousand people in there at a time.  Those are all the indicators that we had that things are moving positively.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he cautions, “there are insurgents out there that are trying to be disruptive, taking potshots here and there, but frankly the presence we have is continuing to build a very positive security situation.”

Counter-insurgency missions take time, the General says.  ”How long does it take to gain a person’s confidence that things are now better and things will continue to be better?”

When the people are convinced, the General insists, they’ll be a giant step closer to establishing security, stability and peace.

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