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U.S. Marines and an Afghanistan Ghost Town Called Now ZadTim King Salem-News.com
"...they are required to patrol that city/town, and little by little, these boys/young men are being maimed, or taken from us..." -Family of a Marine
(SALEM, Ore.) - Questions are beginning to circulate about the spike in Marine Corps casualties in Afghanistan.
Salem-News.com has been reporting about the increasing numbers which represent an entirely different rate than anything the Corps has seen in years.
One place where Marines are continuing to draw attacks is Afghanistan’s toughest ghost town, called Now Zad. The Wall Street Journal's Michael M. Phillips wrote in late May that senior commanders turned down a request from the Marines to dispatch a 1,000-man battalion to the town.
Instead he says they prefer, "to concentrate forces in areas with more hearts and more minds. Yet the military says keeping a lone company in Now Zad 'fixes' the insurgent force in place, even if outright victory isn’t possible." (see: Wall Street Journal: Stalemate in Afghanistan)
Now, more than two months later, Marines are still fighting for this seemingly unimportant, abandoned and remote village.
Now Zad, Afghanistan is in the Northwest section of the troubled Helmand province, which is located West of the Kandahar province which has been a major scene of fighting in this war.
One family member writing to Salem-News.com asked, "Why they are making these young men patrol a city that is DESERTED?...can they answer that?"
"My heart is broken that all these young men are dying in Now Zad and the surrounding areas of Afghanistan....recently Argentine, Lembke, and Whittle.....or, losing limbs."
(story continues below)
FOX News Reporter Andrew Stenner wrote on July 23, 2009, "In Now Zad, located in northern Helmand Province, the Taliban threatened to kill the local population if they didn't abandon the town and proceeded to rig it with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. In response, a company of Marines fought to reclaim the area from the enemy." (see: FOX News - American Heroes: Marines in Afghanistan)
But the fighting in this remnant of a town continues.
And with the news that Now Zad's residents were forced out by the Taliban, the Telegraph UK reports that, "A number of the dispossessed from the towns of Nowzad, Sangin or around Kajaki moved elsewhere – but with little to sustain them, many joined the Taliban for personal survival rather than ideological choice." (see: Telegraph UK - Afghanistan: We are Fighting Ghost Soldiers)
I reported from Afghanistan in 2007 that the Taliban reportedly paid more than the Afghan National Army, causing a high attrition and deserter rate among ANA recruits, who frequently went AWOL with their uniforms and even weapons.
This region of Afghanistan according to several reporter's descriptions, resembles a WWI battlefield like Flanders or The Somme. Close proximity firefights are not uncommon as Marines encounter Taliban forces on patrols in places like irrigation ditches.
The town of Now Zad continues to be extremely dangerous, but perhaps if the Marines had sufficient numbers they could tilt the scales back the other way.
A few years ago the entire military operation in Afghanistan was severely compromised by another war that drew the lion's share of resources. Even President's Obama's boost of troops to 60,000, with the surge of Marines going into Afghanistan in April, seems like too little.
The politics mean little to the Marines on the ground who who keep up the fight against Taliban militants, or to their families who see Now Zad as not just a ghost town, but a great mystery in the general sense. "I just don't understand it....There's no oil, there are no civilians, no livable city, no infrastructure...there's NOTHING...and yet, they are required to patrol that city/town, and little by little, these boys/young men are being maimed, or taken from us..."
"WHY are we in a deserted town? What are we doing?"
Members of Congress and the U.S. Senate reading this story know what to do.
The American public and military have both taken more than a beating in recent years. The war in Afghanistan has to be fought with sufficient numbers.
The U.S. Army is also paying a big price right now. The U.S. Navy recently lost a Corpsman serving with Marines and only days have passed it seems since the last Air Force war casualty was reported. The right approach isn't a bad idea when you send your troops to fight a war in a place that has been invaded many times, but never really defeated.
It is vital that Now Zad does not go down as this war's Hamburger Hill.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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