Marines to remain in Marja for months

By Alfred de Montesquiou
Associated Press / March 1, 2010

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MARJA, Afghanistan - More than 2,000 US Marines and about 1,000 Afghan troops who stormed the Taliban town of Marja as part of a major NATO offensive against a resurgent Taliban will stay several months to ensure insurgents do not return, Marine commanders said yesterday.

Meanwhile, insurgents are striking back by attacking resupply convoys moving in and out of Marja with roadside bombs, Marines said. Four convoys have been hit in the last two days, Marines said on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information. There was no word on casualties.

Two Marine battalions and their Afghan counterparts will be stationed in Marja and help patrol it as part of NATO’s “clear, hold, build’’ strategy, which calls for troops to secure the area, restore a civilian Afghan administration, and bring in aid and public services to win the support of the population, commanders said.

The 1,000 Marines with the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines Regiment were fortifying positions to the north and west of the town yesterday, taking over compounds and building others from scratch to create a small garrison as well as combat outposts and a network of temporary patrol bases, said . Captain Joshua Winfrey. Another battalion was doing the same to the south of Marja, Winfrey said. About 1,000 Afghan troops will accompany the Marines, he added. In addition, about 900 Afghan paramilitary police are already patrolling Marja.

Captain Abe Sipe, a Marine spokesman, said a more permanent military outpost will facilitate a long-term NATO presence in the town.

Marja residents had told government officials that they preferred NATO troops to be based in the town, instead of being outside, to provide better security. Winfrey said he has been told that the entire battalion expects to be stationed in Marja until the end of its deployment in August.