KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan -- We're with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in southern Helmand province, just 75 kilometers from Pakistan, in "battle space" that was the heart of Taliban territory until a few weeks ago. When these Marines fought their way into this dusty district capital in July, the Taliban were stunned. No Afghan government or coalition authorities had been here since 2002. Taliban leaders across the border in Pakistan told their minions to fight back. They did, and it was a terrible mistake. Scores of them died trying to stop the joint American/Afghan National Army troops from establishing a foothold here.
That there are any Americans this close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a tribute to the remarkable Marines of this battalion and those who love them at home. From March through October last year, they were deployed in western Iraq, covering 50,000 square kilometers of trackless desert along the borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia. When they returned home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., Lt. Col. Tom Grattan took command of the battalion and began training for possible overseas commitment in November 2009. But in January, new orders came down: Ready two of the battalion's Light Armored Reconnaissance companies and a headquarters element for deployment to Afghanistan -- by May.
In a matter of weeks, the battalion reassigned Marines and sailors, extended duty tours, canceled transfers and postponed leave. By March, companies C and D and essential command, control, communications and logistics support contingents were at the National Training Center, in Fort Irwin, Calif., for six weeks of live-fire tactics, gunnery training and rehearsals in terrain similar to the terrain in Helmand province. Less than 70 days later, both companies, their light armored vehicles and half the battalion's Headquarters and Service Company -- more than 400 in all -- were in Afghanistan and ready for a fight.
They didn't have to wait long. Less than two weeks later, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade launched south from Camp Leatherneck on Operation Khanjar. The mission for the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion: Conduct a 230-mile movement to wrest this southern-most district of Helmand province from Taliban control.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.