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Villagers Embrace Marines, Afghan Forces

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Special to American Forces Press Service

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 8, 2009 – A previous fear of the Taliban would have kept the people of Amir Agha hidden in their compounds as Marines patrolled through their fields and town, but their willingness to talk has increased with a growing sense of security.

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Marine Corps Sgt. Stephen G. Patten talks to a villager during a patrol through the fields and town of Amir Agha in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, 2009. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
  

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

"We want to help you. We need to talk to you. It is good," a village elder said as the Marines passed by his home.

Marines from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, along with members of the 4th Civil Affairs Group, currently attached to 2/2, and local members of the Afghan Border Police patrolled through Amir Agha, in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, to survey the atmosphere of the village.

"What we saw today was pretty positive," said Marine Corps Maj. Matt Ciancarelli, civil affairs group officer for 2/2. "We have people coming to talk to us, which is good, and they were seeking out the Marines in order to tell them that they're happy we're here, and they're happy that we're looking to join forces with their government in order to help them."

Gulbodin, a local member of the border police, operated in the same area just a year before and has seen a significant change in the attitude of the local population.

"The situation is good," said Gulbodin, 20, from Nawa. "It has gotten better. The people like us now; they don't hate us."

As the Marines walked through the town, scores of children followed closely behind, hoping to get any items that the Marines may be able to give them. The Marines stopped for a few minutes to introduce themselves to the villagers and ask a few questions about the living conditions and overall situation of the town.

The most frequent thing the people asked for was a new school. The children had not attended school because the previous one is now partially destroyed, and is filled with anti-coalition propaganda, which has earned the school the moniker of "the Taliban School."

"That's positive," said Ciancarelli, from Raleigh, N.C. "If they're asking for a school, then that means that they feel safe enough that their kids can go to school."

The Marines spoke with one of the local teachers, who is willing to teach in the area. The teacher agreed that there is a need for a new school. "I am a teacher," he said. "Wherever there is a school built, I will go and teach there."

Along with the Marines, members of the border police came to help with talking to the villagers and to help in searching compounds, if needed. This helps to associate the Marines with the local government, and allows the people to see their countrymen step forward, Ciancarelli said.

While the Marines have started the dialogue with the local people, it ultimately will be the government that will make the advancements and do the work.

"This is their country, their lead," Ciancarelli said. "We're here to assist them with the development. They've done a great deal. They're the ones showing the greatest interest from what I've seen in Garmsir so far."

(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson serves in the 1st Marine Division’s Regimental Combat Team 7 public affairs office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Maj. Matt Ciancarelli and a Pashtu interpreter talk to local residents during a patrol through the town and fields of Amir Agha in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, 2009. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson  
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