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Update On Pendleton-Based Marines in Afghanistan

Your browser does not support this object. View the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2kEfV4uc_Q

Video published August 27, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: We'll hear an update on Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Afghanistan from Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, who just returned from the Helmand Province.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

EIGHT MARINES HAVE BEEN KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN THIS PAST WEEK. THREE OF THEM WERE FROM CAMP PENDLETON. THEY WERE AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF MARINES TAKING PART IN THE U.S. SURGE IN AFGHANISTAN. TONY PERRY IS THE SAN DIEGO BUREAU CHIEF WITH THE LOS ANGELES TIMES. HE'S JUST RETURNED FROM AFGHANISTAN AND HE JOINS ME NOW TO TELL US WHAT HE SAW THERE WHILE REPORTING. TONY, GIVE US AN UPDATE NOW ABOUT THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN, PARTICULARLY HELMAND PROVINCE, THE AREA WHERE YOU WERE REPORTING FROM.

INDEED. THERE ARE 20,000 MARINES AND SAILORS IN HELMAND PROVINCE WHICH IS SOUTHWEST OF KABUL, 10,000 OF THOSE FROM CAMP PENDLETON. HELD PROVINCE IS VERY IMPORTANT. IT IS THE SPIRITUAL HOME, IF YOU --HELMAND PROVINCE IS VERY IMPORTANT IT. IS THE SPIRITUAL HOME, YOU WILL OF THE TALIBAN. IT IS ALSO WHERE THE POPPY CROP IS GROWN THAT FUNDS THE TALIBAN AND RATHER A THRIVING NARCO CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE THERE AND THE MARINES MOVED INTO HELMAND IN LARGE NUMBERS LAST SUMMER ABOUT 14 MONTHS AGO NOW AND THE BATTLE IS ON. AS YOU INDICATED, EIGHT MARINES DEAD IN THE LAST SEVEN TO 10 DAYS, MORE COMING. IT IS A LONG DIFFICULT BATTLE. EARLY PREDICTIONS THAT IT COULD BE WON QUICKLY HAVE NOT COME TO FRUITION. IT'S GOING TO TAKE A LONG TIME. THE MARINES FROM CAMP PENDLETON THAT ARE THERE NOW HAVE BEEN TOLD BY THE COMMANDANT EXPECT TO COME BACK TWO TIMES, THREE TIMES, MAYBE FOUR TIMES UNTIL THIS JOB IS DONE.

TONY, I REMEMBER SPEAKING WITH YOU MONTHS BACK WHEN THIS SURGE BEGAN AND YOU DESCRIBED THE DIFFICULTY OF THE MISSION BECAUSE IT WAS SORT OF TWOFOLD IN TERMS OF WHAT TROOPS HAD TO DO, WHICH WAS REALLY WIN THE PEOPLE OVER. HOW'S THAT GOING?

ONE GENERAL REFERS TO THE MISSION AS THREE CUPS OF TEA AND CLOSE AIR SUPPORT. THAT IS TO SAY, WIN HEARTS AND MINDS, BUT ALSO ENGAGE AND DESTROY THOSE ELEMENTS THAT ARE FIGHTING AND THAT'S A VERY DIFFICULT MISSION, PARTICULARLY THE FORMER PART OF IT, THE THREE COUPLES OF TEA, WITHOUT MUCH OF A PARTNER IN THE AFGHAN PROVINCIAL OR NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS. THEY HAVE NOT REALLY SWOOPED IN AS THE MARINES AND THE U.S. HAD HOPED AND SET UP A GOVERNMENT TO WIN THE ALLEGIANCE OF THE PEOPLE. THAT'S A VERY DIFFICULT PROGRESS TO BE ACHIEVED. COMING OUT OF THE MARINE CORPS A COMMANDANT WAS TELLING THE YOUNG MARINES 2014, 2015. THAT'S HOW LONG THIS THING IS GOING TO TAKE. THE DECISION ISN'T HIS. THE DECISION IS UP TO THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF AND IF HE WANTS THEM OUT EARLIER, THEY'LL COME OUT EARLIER, BUT IF WE HAVE DECIDED AS A POLITICAL BODY THAT WE NEED CERTAIN THINGS TO OCCUR IN AFGHANISTAN, WE NEED TO SHAPE EVENTS IN AFGHANISTAN FOR OUR OWN NATIONAL SECURITY, IT'S GOING TO TAKE A WHILE.

WHAT DID THE TROOPS TELL YOU, OUR LOCAL TROOPS WHO YOU'RE THERE TALKING TO DAILY?

MORALE IS A HARD THING TO GAUGE. MORALE REALLY IS NOT REALLY CONTINGENT UPON GEOPOLITICAL CONCERNS, BUT RATHER SUCH THINGS AS HOW'S THE FOOD AND THE SERGEANT YOU WORK FOR? I SENSE MORALE IS GOOD. THEY FEEL REINFORCED BY THEIR OWN LEADERSHIP THAT THEY'RE DOING SOMETHING IMPORTANT AND DOING IT WELL, BUT THERE'S ALSO THE GRIM REALITY THEY KNOW THEY'RE GOING TO BE COMING BACK. NOW AT THIS POINT WITH 20,000 MARINES THERE AS OPPOSED TO 26,000 AT THE HEIGHT IN IRAQ, THEY CAN LOOK FOR WHAT THEY CALL A 2-1 DWELL. THAT IS TO SAY SEVEN MONTHS IN AFGHANISTAN, 14 MONTHS HOME, SEVEN MORE IN AFGHANISTAN. IN IRAQ IT WAS 1-1, SEVEN AND SEVEN AND SEVEN AND SEVEN, BUT THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS BELIEVES AT 2-1 HE CAN SUSTAIN THIS TROOP LEVEL OF 20,000 FOR A LONG, LONG TIME.

YOU TALKED ABOUT MORALE. THE REPORT WAS RELEASED THIS WEEK BY THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. IT TALKED ABOUT SUICIDE RATES. AMONG VETERANS THEY'RE INCREASING, ESPECIALLY HIGH AMONG MARINES. HOW DID YOU REACT WHEN YOU SAW THE RESULTS OF THIS REPORT?

WE'VE SEEN THIS COMING. LAST YEAR IN 2009 THERE WERE 52 CONFIRMED SUICIDES IN MARINE CORPS. THE YEAR BEFORE THERE WERE 42. THE MARINE CORPS HAS TRIED ALL SORTS OF THINGS, ANTI-SUICIDE VIDEOS, MORE TRAINING, GETTING THE NONCOMMISSIONED OFFICERS INVOLVED AND AS I SAY, I WAS TRAVELING FOR A WHILE WITH THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS AND THE SERGEANT MAJOR OF MARINE CORPS, THE TOP ENLISTED MEN CARLTON KENT AND ONE OF THE LESSONS HE WAS DRIVING HOME TO THE YOUNG MARINES IS SUICIDE AWARENESS. WATCH YOUR BUDDY. WHEN YOU SEE HIM GOING DOWN FOR THE COUNT, WHAT YOU SEE HIM TALKING NEGATIVE, WHAT YOU HEAR HIM TALKING I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO LIVE FOR, INTERVENE AND INTERVENE QUICKLY. GET THE GUNNERY SERGEANT INVOLVED, THE CHAPLAIN AND CHAIN OF COMMAND INVOLVED. IT'S A VERY DIFFICULT PROBLEM, PARTICULARLY AS THE LONG WAR AS THEY CALL IT CONTINUES AND THESE YOUNG MEN, MANY OF THEM 20, 21 YEARS OLD, ALL THEY'VE KNOWN SINCE GRADUATING FROM HIGH SCHOOL IS WAR. IT'S VERY DIFFICULT.

I WANT TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS YOU BROUGHT WITH YOU. WE WANT TO SHOW THEM TO OUR VIEWERS AND AS WE GO THROUGH THEM, YOU COULD SORT OF TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHO IS IN THE PHOTO AND WHERE THEY ARE.

SURE.

LET'S BEGIN HERE. I THINK WE HAVE --IS IT MARINE COMMANDANT?

THAT'S THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS ON THE RIGHT GENERAL JAMES CONWAY. ON THE LEFT IS THE SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE MARINE CORPS CARLTON KENT. THEY ARE TALKING TO MARINES IN HELMAND PROVINCE. THIS IS WHAT THEY DID IN ABOUT 10 DIFFERENT SPOTS. THEY CAME. THEY SAID YOUNG MEN, YOU'RE DOING QUITE A GOOD JOB. ANY QUESTIONS AND THERE WERE QUESTIONS FROM A TO Z. THERE WERE QUESTIONS ABOUT DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL. THERE WERE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TATTOO POLICY. THERE WERE QUESTIONS SPECIFICALLY ABOUT JOB CLASSIFICATIONS. THESE ARE THE KABUL TRAINING CAMP RECRUITS. THESE ARE AFGHANS TRAINING TO TAKE PART IN THEIR OWN SELF- DEFENSE OF THEIR COUNTRY WITH THE AFGHAN ARMY, A LONG PROCESS. THEY NEED TO HAVE AS MANY TRAINED IN THE NEXT 14 MONTHS AS THEY'VE TRAINED IN EIGHT YEARS. HERE AGAIN IS CONWAY, ANOTHER GENERAL TO HIS LEFT, A COUPLE MORE MARINES ON HIS RIGHT AND AN AFGHAN OFFICER. THEY'RE CHECKING OUT THIS TRAINING. TRAINING IS GOING SLOWLY. THIS IS A MULLAH, AN IMPORTANT MAN, A BIG MEDICINE KIND OF GUY IN NAWAH WHICH IS A CITY IN HELMAND PROVINCE WHERE A LOT OF PROGRESS IS BEING DONE. HERE HE IS SAYING ARE YOU GOING HOME SOON? HE SAID PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID YOU'RE GOING TO JULY, 2001. PLEASE DON'T GO. CONWAY SAID WE'RE NOT GOING AND HERE THIS IS THE RESULT OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY. THAT'S LANCE CORPORAL KEVIN ORATOWSKI. THAT'S HIS FLAG DRAPED CASKET BEING LOADED ON A C130. HIS REMAINS WERE BEING TAKEN HOME TO HIS FAMILY IN WHEATTON, ILLINOIS. IF WE HAVE DECIDED THIS IS THE FOREIGN POLICY THAT WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR COUNTRY, HITCH UP YOUR PANTS. IT'S GOING TO TAKE A WHILE, COST MONEY AND YOUNG MAN LIKE WE JUST SAW ARE GOING TO DIE. IF WE DECIDE THIS IS WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO, LOOK THE CONSEQUENCES IN THE FACE. IF WE DECIDE WE DON'T NEED IT, THAT'S A WHOLE OTHER QUESTION.

TONY PERRY, THANKS FOR BEING HERE.

MY PLEASURE.

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