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Mock Afghan village at Camp Pendleton aims to prepare troops for combat

November 16, 2010 |  6:21 pm

Trainer2The name is decidedly un-Afghan: the Infantry Immersion Trainer.

But everything else in the $28.5-million venue at Camp Pendleton, which made its debut Tuesday, is meant to simulate the sights, sounds and, yes, the smells of an Afghan village -- the kind that Marines will encounter in Helmand province.

The goal, said Col. David Smith, program manager for Marine Corps training systems, is to close the gap between the last day of training and the first day in Afghanistan. Camp Pendleton has 10,000 Marines in Afghanistan.

Similar mockups are being built at Camp Lejeune, N.C. ($16 million) and Hawaii ($31 million).

The "village" at Camp Pendleton is 130,000 square feet, complete with bazaar stalls, a small mosque, mounds of broken concrete, ersatz corn and poppy fields, drooping telephone wires, a heroin production mill and two-story buildings where snipers and Taliban sympathizers may lurk.  There are 25 "smell generators," six sound systems, 233 cameras for capturing the action indoors and outdoors, 20 animal pens (with fake sheep), weapons caches and crude labs for making roadside bombs.

Some 40 Afghan "role-players" engage Marines in various scenarios, sometimes greeting them with friendliness, sometimes with hostility. Marines are faced with decisions on when to use their weapons, all being filmed for review later.

Looming over much of the village is a visage of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Role-players act as Afghan security forces, armed with AK-47s. Marines have to decide whether they can be trusted.

While there have been other "villages," this one is meant to test the training and quick thinking of Marine squads, often the youngest and most inexperienced of troops.

Beyond the theatricality of the place, there is a serious purpose.

The goal of the training is to "increase the effectiveness and survivability of combat units," said John Burrow, executive director of the Marine Corps Systems Command.

Since Jan. 1, 142 Marines and a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines have died in Afghanistan.

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: A role-player poses as an Afghan security officer in front of a building lined with cameras at the Marines' new faux-Afghan village at Camp Pendleton. Credit: Lance Cpl. John Robbart III