Afghan officers in Southland to observe training of Marines
The five -- one general and two colonels from the Afghan army, a deputy police chief and a commanding officer of the Afghan border police -- are from Helmand province, a onetime Taliban stronghold bordering Pakistan.
Since 2008, Marines have been assigned to rout Taliban fighters in the province and train Afghan forces to someday assume responsibility for providing security to a populace of farmers that has been brutalized and intimidated by the Taliban. Marines have fought bloody battles in Marjah and Sangin and encountered buried roadside bombs throughout the rural province.
On Wednesday, the Afghan officers met with teachers at a Camp Pendleton school, attended an officers' course, watched live-fire training and visited a mock Afghan village on base where Marines learn to patrol through streets where snipers lurk and bombs are hidden.
Other spots on the three-day trip include a helicopter trip to Los Angeles to visit a jail run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and to meet with Los Angeles police officers.
Also, there will be a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border with the Border Patrol, a visit with the Coast Guard, and attendance at a graduation at the Marine boot camp in San Diego.
The Afghans' host is Marine Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus, who will deploy to Helmand province early next year to take command of Marines and coalition troops.
Training the Afghan forces in Helmand province and throughout the sprawling country has been a major focus of the U.S. and NATO efforts.
In Helmand, the police force had a reputation for corruption and brutality. Also, efforts to train and equip the newly reorganized Afghan army have been hampered by illiteracy and drug use among recruits and by tribal rivalries.
Still, Gurganus and other senior Marines report seeing a rising competency.
"We think these guys are going to be plenty capable," Gurganus told reporters recently.
--Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Afghan army recruits in Kandahar province. Credit: Associated Press