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Afghanistan war: Marines move in to stop Taliban from Pakistan

As part of Obama's Afghanistan war surge, some 9,000 marines are moving into small Afghan towns near the border to stop Taliban soldiers and supplies coming from Pakistan. The view from this new front.

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They also took a cut of the opium poppy crop – the world’s largest – says Mr. Mohammad, angering farmers. But the Taliban’s cross-border movements helped farmers get poppy to market – something that may put farmers on a collision course with the marines (who don’t touch the crops) if they establish a border crossing.

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The area has also taken an economic hit from the loss of drug trading in the sleepy bazaar, which still uses Pakistani rupees. “Before, [business] was better. Now people are afraid to come, so it’s slower than before,” says Allah Daad, a mechanic with a shop in the bazaar.

The Taliban no longer stop in Khan Neshin, says Mohammad, who, like Mr. Daad, spoke through a military interpreter. But the marines are still tracking locals whom they believe put up Taliban travelers. “There are supplies a couple times a week going further north or people going down to Pakistan,” says Maj. Jeremy Hoffman, an information operations officer from Aurora, Colo., who notes Taliban movements are slower in the winter. “Us having more troops would make it more difficult to move personnel and resources across the border.”

A place to watch for Taliban

Since the area is largely desert, essentially creating an open road, circumventing the coalition may be a hassle, but not too great a one. On the other hand, the terrain lets the marines see easily, aided by long-range camera towers inside the bases.

“In modern warfare, surveillance is incredibly important,” says Lt. Col. Christopher Langton (ret.), a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There is the possibility of interdicting movement of militants across the border into Kandahar and Helmand.”

Yet the partial closing of this one door from Pakistan required a 10,000-strong task force of marines, with 9,000 more to help finish the job. And critics say the intense focus on the south has come at the expense of provinces closer to Kabul, including Logar and Wardak.

The troop numbers committed to Helmand also call into question if the military really has the manpower to secure other border regions – and if not, what would stop the Taliban from using those. Getting coalition troops along the full border is “impossible” because of expense, says Haroun Mir, an Afghan analyst.

The marines here are training Afghan security forces to take over more secure areas, thus allowing marines to address other areas. That effort here has only begun, with some 100 police being trained around Khan Neshin. It could be years before they are ready to relieve the US forces.

Others advocate boosting a political approach to the border problem: Lean more on Pakistan to move militarily against Taliban centers on its soil. So far, despite US pressure, Pakistan’s military have only gone after insurgents who have attacked them, leaving Afghan-focused insurgent leaders untouched.