MARJAH, Afghanistan – More than 2,000 U.S. Marines and about 1,000 Afghan troops who stormed the Taliban town of Marjah as part of a major NATO offensive against a resurgent Taliban will stay for the next several months to help ensure insurgents don't return, Marine commanders said Sunday.
Two Marine battalions, along with their Afghan counterparts, will be stationed in Marjah and help patrol it as part of NATO's "clear, hold, build" strategy, which calls for troops to secure the area, restore a civilian Afghan administration, and bring in aid and public services to win the support of the local population, commanders said.
On Sunday, the 1,000 Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment were fortifying positions to the north and west of the town, taking over compounds and building others from scratch to create a small garrison, known as a Forward Operating Base, as well as combat outposts and a network of temporary patrol bases, said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, head of Lima Company.
To the south of Marjah, another battalion was doing the same, Winfrey said. About 1,000 Afghan troops will accompany the Marines, he added.
Marine spokesman Capt. Abe Sipe said construction of a more permanent military outpost will facilitate a long-term NATO presence in the town.
"We are going to have a presence in Marjah for some time. There's no plans for anyone to pull out," Sipe said. "The idea is to live among the local nationals because we found that's the best way to partner with local security partners to make Afghans feel safe and not under threat."
Afghan residents in Marjah had told government officials that they preferred NATO troops to be based in the town itself, instead of being outside, to provide better security.
Winfrey said he has been told that the entire battalion expects to be stationed in Marjah until the end of its deployment in August.
Establishing a credible local government is a key component of NATO's strategy for the longtime Taliban logistical hub and drug trafficking center. Last week, the government installed a new civilian chief, and several hundred Afghan police have already begun patrolling newly cleared areas of Marjah and the surrounding district of Nad Ali.
The Marjah offensive has been the biggest military operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hard-line regime. It's the first major test of NATO's counterinsurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new American troops to try to reverse Taliban gains.
But the challenges in routing the Taliban are formidable. A team of suicide attackers struck Friday in the heart of the capital, Kabul, killing at least 16 people in assaults on two small hotels. Half of the dead were foreigners. The attack served as a reminder that the insurgents still have the strength to launch attacks — even in the capital.
On Sunday, three top police commanders in Kabul offered to resign from their posts for failing to prevent the insurgents' attack.
"We are the people responsible for the security of Kabul, we failed to provide that security and we don't want to be responsible for others dying," said Gen. Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, the chief of Kabul's criminal investigation unit. The city's police chief and deputy police chief also offered to resign, according to the Interior Ministry.
However, the interior minister told all three to continue in their posts until an investigation is finished. At that point, he will decide whether or not to accept their resignations, said Zemeri Bashary, a spokesman for the ministry.
In other violence, 11 members of one family were killed Sunday in southern Helmand province when their tractor, with a truck-bed hitched to the back, hit a roadside bomb, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. All aboard died, including two women and two children.
Ahmadi said the Sunday attack occurred in Now Zad district, significantly north of the area where international and Afghan forces launched their military push against the Taliban.