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U.S. Leads Noncombat Missions in Afghanistan

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2010 – U.S. forces have taken part in several important noncombat missions throughout Afghanistan in recent days, including meetings between residents and government leaders, humanitarian outreach, construction training and transferring responsibilities to Afghans.

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Children who live at an orphanage in Afghanistan’s Laghman province receive toys from the province’s agribusiness development and provincial reconstruction teams, Jan. 7, 2010. The teams provided school supplies and toys to the orphanage as part an ongoing humanitarian assistance project in the area. U.S. Army courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In southern Ghazni province’s Nawa district, U.S. Marines were on hand as dozens of residents met with their governmental leaders Jan. 8 near Forward Operating Base Fiddler's Green in what is believed to be the first such gathering in decades.

More than 50 people attended the meeting and some residents took the opportunity to speak their minds to representatives from Nawa and the city of Marjeh. They explained how some had not had direct interaction with their government in years.

"There was a lot of pent-up frustration at this shura because many of them have not seen government representatives in decades," said Marine Corps Maj. David J. Fennell, civil affairs detachment team leader, 4th Civil Affairs Group. "This is the most productive thing I've seen since I've been here. The government officials had the confidence to come down here. There is security for the people, so they came here. Everything we're doing in this region keeps gaining momentum and continues to speed up. It's going well."

Marine commanders of Regimental Combat Team 7; 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment; 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment; and 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, joined the meeting to be introduced and to hear some of the concerns of the Afghan citizens they protect.

"In the recent weeks, you've seen hundreds of Marines in this area," said Lt. Col. Cal L. Worth, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, which will arrive in the Shorshorak area in the coming weeks. "I am here to bring a thousand Marines and hundreds of Afghan soldiers here to improve stability in this region. We will form a team for long-lasting peace here. I look forward to serving you both here and in Marjeh."

During the discussions, citizens brought up their concerns, such as security, land rights, building infrastructure and working with Marines and other NATO International Security Assistance Force units. The importance of securing Shorshorak was an issue for both parties due to Taliban influence stemming from Marjeh to their west.

"I encourage you to do this the right way and support us to rebuild a strong Afghanistan," said Haji Zahir, district governor of Marjeh, who led many of the conversations for the government representatives. "We want to make sure you keep your land. The Marines are here to help us. They are not only bringing safety and security, but they are helping with the roads, hospitals, mosques and schools."

To showcase some of the achievements after discussions ended, the group walked down the road and symbolically cut ribbons to christen two new bridges and a new water well pump.

"Here we are standing on this new bridge," Zahir told the group after cutting the first ribbon. "Afghans built this bridge. It is for us. The Americans will leave here one day and it will be on us to build together for our future here and in Marjeh."

Each of the construction projects is significant to Shorshorak not only because they were needed and wanted by the people in the area, but the work was done entirely by Afghan contractors, Fennell said.

"Once the people were able to go see these completed government projects, firsthand, after the meeting, I think that speaks volumes to the positive impacts of future projects," said Lt. Col. Todd R. Finley, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, whose Marines helped organize the day's events. "It also helps build people's confidence in their government."

Although some elders who attended said tension still persists between them and their government, they agreed it was a good starting point for their future.

"There are a lot of good people here who will work with Marines and the government," said a man from Shorshorak who has lived with more than 30 years of conflict. "We are happy they are building mosques and schools for our children to be engineers, doctors and teachers. We will try to help the Marines here and in Marjeh in the future."

Fennell and other Marines who attended the shura said they anticipate there’ll be more cooperation between government leaders and their constituents in the key region of Nawa.

"I think today there was some venom that needed to be spilled and it will allow future discourse between the two," said Fennell, a Denver native. "It was bound to happen, and it's better now than later. This is a huge positive step for us to be ready to move into Marjeh."

In other events with international forces in Afghanistan, Afghan government officials signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 9 that will guide the process for its Defense Ministry to assume responsibility for the newly completed U.S. Detention Facility in Parwan.

As stated in the memorandum, the Afghan ministry will perform the custodial role and management functions for the transition of the detention facility. The ministry will eventually transfer its role as custodian and manager to Afghanistan’s Justice Ministry at a time to be determined by the country’s president.

Under the agreement, the Afghan ministries will identify and assign personnel to staff the facility, working alongside U.S. personnel through the transition process. The Afghan National Army will train, equip and assign most guard force and headquarters staff.

Joint Task Force 435 was established by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in September to assume responsibility for detention operations in Afghanistan, including the care and custody of detainees, oversight of detainee review processes, programs for the peaceful reintegration of detainees into society, and coordination with other agencies and partners for the promotion of the rule of law in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Seabees assigned to the 30th Naval Construction Regiment departed Kandahar Airfield this month for northern Afghanistan to prepare that region for the arrival of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4.

The regiment, which exercises command and control over military engineer construction in southern and western Afghanistan, is sending a quartering party made up of representatives from the communications, intelligence, operations, and logistics departments to northern Afghanistan to set up for the arrival of NMCB 4.

The quartering party is making arrangements to acquire berthing, food, construction materials, equipment and other required resources. NMCB 4 is deploying ahead of schedule in support of President Barack Obama’s order to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

Also, U.S. Marines and the Farah Provincial Reconstruction Team took part in a meeting between the Farah province governor in western Afghanistan and about 300 local men on Jan. 4. Governor Amin and his line directors planned to address security concerns, encourage residents to support the Afghan government, and highlight some of the economic development projects for Golestan with an emphasis on narcotic crop reduction.

Security is the responsibility of the Afghan government and the right of its people, Amin said at the shura. Also, he said, "Drugs are the enemy. Why would you invite your enemy into your fields or bring them into your home?"

And, in an effort to reduce narcotic plant production, the Farah provincial government and PRT initiated a wheat seed distribution system last month. The program resulted in the delivery of 500 metric tons of high-quality wheat seed and 500 metric tons of fertilizer throughout the province. Golestan district received 30 metric tons of each.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released the Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2009 that says poppy production in Farah province was reduced by 45 percent last year.

Elsewhere, the Laghman Agribusiness Development Team is supervising an ongoing construction project and assisting in a humanitarian-aid mission in Laghman province. The Laghman team partnered with villagers, who are training to become carpenters, to construct a barn on the research and demonstration farm in Mehtar Lam village.

The project will improve the carpenters’ ability to work on construction projects throughout the region. To ensure proper construction methods, building techniques are taught in English, Dari and Pashto. The aspiring Afghan carpenters each received a set of hand tools, donated by several U.S. businesses and friends of the Laghman development team. Each carpenter received a tool bag, tool belt, hammer, pry bar, square, gloves and other tools.

In addition to assisting local tradesmen, the Laghman development team and the Laghman PRT delivered school supplies, backpacks and toys to about 300 girls and 50 boys who live in the province’s only orphanage. The children attend school, but they do not receive the same support for education as regular schools across the province.

(Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte, Air Force Master Sgt. Tracy DeMarco, and Marine Corps Sgt. Brian Tuthill contributed to this report.)

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