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In Afghanistan, Defense secretary praises Camp Pendleton Marines for combat success

March 8, 2011 | 10:20 am

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meeting with Camp Pendleton Marines in the Sangin district of Afghanistan.

In a visit to the front lines of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates praised the Marines from Camp Pendleton for winning a "major strategic breakthrough" in the fight with the Taliban.

Gates' comments to the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment came Tuesday as he visited the Sangin district of Helmand province. Twenty-four Marines from the Camp Pendleton-based battalion, called the Dark Horse, have been killed in combat and more than 150 have been wounded.

"It's an honor to be here in Dark Horse country and to see for myself the dramatic turnaround that you all have brought about here in Sangin," Gates said.

"Before you arrived here, the Taliban were dug in deep, and as the British before you can attest, this district was one of the most dangerous [places] not just in Afghanistan, but maybe in the whole world," he said.

The Three-Five has "suffered the heaviest losses of any battalion in this 10-year-long war. Everyday I monitor how you're doing, and every day you return to your [base] without a loss, I say a little prayer," Gates said.

The battalion is slated to return home in April, to be replaced in Sangin by the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, also from Camp Pendleton.

While surviving Taliban fighters appear to have fled or gone into hiding after weeks of daily fighting, Marine brass expect the insurgents to launch a counteroffensive in early spring in an attempt to retake control of Sangin.

Along with the 24 Marines from the battalion, another six Marines from battalions assigned to assist the Three-Five have also been killed in the Sangin mission since late September.

ALSO:

Camp Pendleton Marines are fighting hard, but Afghan strategy is futile, author says

General who led Camp Pendleton Marines into combat named top assistant to secretary of defense

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meeting with Camp Pendleton Marines in the Sangin district of Afghanistan. Credit: Department of Defense

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