CAMP HANSEN, Afghanistan -- This austere U.S. Marine base in the Marjah district of Helmand province is headquarters for 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment -- famous for action during World War II on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. Dubbed "America's Battalion," the unit has adopted a new slogan in Afghanistan: "Front Toward Enemy" -- the label placed on devices such as claymore mines and anti-tank rockets. It's appropriate here in the southern Helmand River valley.
Lt. Col. J.D. Harrill, the 2/8 battalion commander, is a hero in his own right -- and so are his Marines and Navy corpsmen. He was awarded the Silver Star, our nation's third-highest award for valor, during the battle for Ramadi, Iraq. Back then, the capital of Anbar province was the bloodiest place on earth. When he and his Marines arrived here in January, more than half were already veterans of gunfights along the Euphrates River and in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. When they moved into this canal-laced heartland of the Taliban, they had to fight their way in.
Maj. Jamie Murphy, the battalion operations officer, put it this way: "For nearly four months, we had multiple gun battles and (improvised explosive device) strikes every day. The Taliban threw everything they had at us. For weeks on end, our Marines were 'canal-hopping' through fields laced with (homemade explosives) and lined with snipers. By May, it was changing. Now we're winning. We know it, and so does the enemy."
When I asked Maj. Murphy what turned things around, he pointed to the nearby Afghan National Army outpost and a dark green Ford Ranger with Afghan police markings and replied, "Our partnering with them."
In Washington and Kabul, they describe "partnering" as the "next-to-last step to a full transition." The goal: By the end of 2014, Afghan national security forces are supposed to be fully responsible for security and stability in this country. It's the final phase of this transition, "sustaining," that has people here -- Afghan, allied and American -- so concerned because of proposed funding cuts. In short, the government in Kabul cannot afford to keep 305,000 Afghan soldiers and police in the field without major outside financial support.
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.
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