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Soldiers Replacing Marines in Kandahar

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2002 – "A couple of hundred" soldiers from the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division are on the ground in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to replace Marines, who have been there since late November.

The Fort Campbell, Ky., soldiers will perform many of the same duties as the Marines. The soldiers' missions include maintaining a presence, operating the airfield, coordinating with the Afghan interim government, humanitarian organizations, and running the detention facilities.

Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said eventually more than 1,000 soldiers will be based in Kandahar.

Pentagon officials said the Marines are an expeditionary force. They are meant to enter an area, take it, and then leave. The Army is configured to occupy an area for longer periods of time. "And that's what the 101st will do," officials said.

News reports out of the area said Marine forces are hunting Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. "The U.S. forces in Afghanistan continue to be focused on our primary objectives," Clarke said. "That is to pursue and get the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership." She was following a long- standing Pentagon policy of not talking about ongoing operations.

News reports also indicate that Afghan officials are negotiating with representatives of Mullah Omar to surrender Taliban pockets of resistance. Clarke said U.S. forces are working closely with and consulting with the Afghan interim government.

She said the United States and Afghanistan understand the importance of capturing Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. "We have given a very clear sense of how committed we are to getting the Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and what we expect the disposition of them to be," she said.

U.S. officials continue to be concerned about the flare-up of tensions between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has placed troops on the border with Afghanistan to block escaping Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. U.S. officials do not want a redeployment of those troops to other areas in Pakistan. "To date, we've been pleased with (Pakistan's) support," Clarke said.

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