Thousands of U.S. Marines were told they were about to
make history before they set out on Thursday to wrest control of
Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province away from the Taliban.
“You’re going to change the world this summer and it starts this
morning,” Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss, commander of the 2nd
battalion, 8th Marines, told his troops dressed in desert fatigues
before they mounted helicopters and humvees.
“The United States and the world are watching. Their expectations are enormously high during this summer of decision.”
Their mission was part of the first major push under U.S. President
Barack Obama’s new regional strategy to turn the tide in Afghanistan
and defeat the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies.
That strategy depends largely on creating relationships with the
locals. Sort of like community organizing with boots on the ground.
The Marines have arrived in Afghanistan with a vow to do
less shooting and more talking and that was certainly the case in the
early stages of Operation Khanjar, or Strike of the Sword.
No major engagements were reported and one company commander said he
was looking forward to meeting village leaders in the evening. Orders
went out to set up shuras, or community councils, within 24 hours of
arriving in a village.
Other company commanders said they expected to drink a lot of tea in the coming days and weeks.