AFGHANISTAN: 30 days to scrounge more troops?
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that the 2,200 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will remain in Afghanistan an extra 30 days -- returning to Camp Lejeune in November rather than October.
Thirty days in a struggle with complex issues, brutal weather, rugged terrain and seemingly intractable cultural divides?
Andrew Lubin, journalist, author and journalism professor, is just back from six weeks embedded with Marines in Afghanistan. He thinks the 30 days is meant to give Gen. David McKiernan more time to beg, borrow or otherwise scrounge another military unit from the U.S. or NATO to continue the fight.
Lubin was with Marines fighting to wrest control of Helmand province from the Taliban. Helmand is the center of Afghanistan's poppy growing region. The Taliban uses profits from the opium trade to finance their fight to topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
''We could see the area improving daily," Lubin e-mails. "But there is NO unit -- Marine, Army, Canadian or Brit -- scheduled to backfill. If they (U.S./NATO troops) leave, control of that area goes back to the Taliban.''
Lubin's reporting from Afghanistan can be seen on www.getthegouge.com.
Tony Perry, in San Diego
Photo: Afghan soldiers being trained by U.S. Marines; credit: Marine Corps.