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Camp Pendleton Marines in Afghanistan warned of Taliban threat

July 31, 2011 |  9:05 am

Photo: Adm. Mike Mullen with Marines and sailors in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps During a surprise visit Saturday with Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton deployed in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned against complacency and said Taliban fighters could be planning increased attacks.

"We are in a time right now where ... the number of attacks is down," Adm. Mike Mullen told members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "That doesn't mean it isn't going to jump back up. You have been here when it did so that certainly could happen."

Mullen spoke to members of the 1/5 at Forward Operating Base Jackson. The battalion is assigned to Sangin, the onetime Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, the center of the region's poppy crop. The crop is turned into heroin, providing income for the insurgency.

From late April to late June, seven Marines from the battalion were killed. There have been no reported deaths in July.

Marines must continue pushing the Taliban farther away from Sangin, Mullen said: "There is still a lot of work to be done. I know that; you know that. In this province, you are at the core of completing what some people thought couldn't be done."

As the Taliban loses ground, its leaders could be forced "into making some decisions they haven't had to make in the past," Mullen said.

Mullen praised the progress of the Afghan security forces toward assuming responsibility for protecting the population of Helmand province, according to accounts of the visit made available by the Marine Corps.

"They are the way home" for U.S. troops, he said. "They're the ones who are going to have to take this over."

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Adm. Mike Mullen with Marines and sailors in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

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