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Local Marines Face Long Battle in Afghanistan

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Video Transcript:

WITH THE LAST U.S. COMBAT TROOPS DEPARTING FROM IRAQ THIS WEEK, IT'S A GOOD TIME TO CHECK IN ON OUR LOCAL MARINES WHO ARE STATIONED IN AFGHANISTAN. TONY PERRY IS THE SAN DIEGO BUREAU CHIEF FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, WHO JOINS US LIVE FROM THE HELMOND PROVINCE, TO GIVE US AN UPDATE ON THE COMBAT OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN. TERRY, WELCOME. HOPE YOU'RE DOING WELL. Reporter: DOING QUITE WELL. IT'S HOT, BUT I'M DOING WELL, AND IT'S NICE TO HAVE THE SUN DOWN UPON US AT 10:30 AT NIGHT HERE. IT'S COOLED OFF JUST A BIT HERE. GIVE US A PICTURE OF WHAT'S GOING ON IN HELMOND PROVINCE. HOW VIOLENT IS IT THERE? Reporter: IT'S VERY VIOLENT THERE. THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY 20,000 MARINES AND SAILORS SPREAD OUT IN A SPRAWLING PROVINCE, WHICH IS ONE OF THE HOME GROUNDS OF THE TALIBAN. ABOUT 10,000 OF THOSE SAILORS ARE FROM CAMP PENDLETON. A SERIES OF VILLAGES STRUNG OUT ALONG THE HELMOND RIVER, MANY OF THEM CONTROLLED AT ONE TIME BY THE TALIBAN. IT'S THE MARINE'S JOB TO WREST CONTROL AWAY FROM THE TALIBAN AND ALSO HELP LOCAL GOVERNMENT ESTABLISH ITSELF. TWENTY THOUSAND. SO THAT'S A LOT OF RESOURCES. WHY SO MANY RESOURCES COMMITTED TO HELMOND PROVINCE? WELL, INSURGENCY, BY ITS NATURE IS LABOR INTENSIVE. THEY PROBABLY HAVE FEWER RESOURCES THAN THEY NEED, BUT A NUMBER OF TROOPS, THE DEADLINE FOR THEM TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY, OF COURSE, IS A POLITICALLY DRIVEN DECISION, AND THE DECISION MADE TO KEEP IT AT 20,000 AND TO START TALKING, TALKING ABOUT WITHDRAWING FROM JULY 2011. NOW, IN HELMOND PROVINCE, THAT DOESN'T SEEM REALISTIC. I DON'T THINK ANYONE EXPECTS THE MARINES FROM CAMP PENDLETON OR ANY OF THE OTHER BASES TO START COMING HOME UNTIL NEXT JULY. THAT'S INTERESTING. YOU WERE LAST THERE IN FEBRUARY. HOW HAS THE MISSION CHANGED IN HELMOND PROVINCE SINCE YOUR LAST VISIT? IT IS THE --THE TEMPO OF IT HAS INCREASED DRAMATICALLY. A LOT MORE BASES ARE BEING BUILT, SMALL AND LARGE, THERE'S A LOT MORE GOING OUT AND TRYING TO GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE. THERE IS A LOT MORE PUSHING THE CONTACT, GOING OUT, FINDING THE TALIBAN, SEEING IF THEY WANT TO FIGHT, AND THEN FIGHTING THEM. THERE IS A LOT MORE ACTIVITY NEAR THE IRANIAN BORDER, NEAR THE NORTHERN PART OF THE PROVINCE, NEAR A DAM PROJECT THAT THE TALIBAN IS TRYING TO STOP NEAR THE PAKISTAN BORDER OR WHAT THEY CALL RAT LINES, AN UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, IF YOU WILL, THAT BRINGS IN FIGHTERS AND MUNITIONS AND OTHER THINGS FROM PAKISTAN . IT'S A LOT MORE FIGHTING THAN IT APPEARS IN THE PRESS DAY TO DAY. I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT. I MEAN, THE INFORMATION YOU WERE GIVING ME IS KIND OF A SURPRISE. I READ ABOUT IT, BUT I HAVEN'T HEARD OR READ ANYTHING LIKE THIS. HAS THIS GOT SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS HAS REPLACED STANLEY McCHRYSTAL AS THE TOP COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN? NO, IT DOESN'T, GLORIA. WHAT IT HAS TO DO WITH IS THE FACT THAT THE MARINES, STARTING LAST JULY, AND NOW INCREASINGLY, ARE MOVING INTO AREAS WHERE THERE HAVE BEEN NO COALITION FORCES, OR MINIMAL FORCES, AND THE TALIBAN, HAVING CONTROLLED THOSE AREAS, ARE VERY RELUCTANT TO GIVE THEM UP, BECAUSE, AMONG OTHER THINGS, THIS IS WHERE THE POPPY CROP IS. THIS IS WHERE THE CROP THAT TURNS INTO HEROINE THAT TURNS INTO ENORMOUS PROFITS FOR THE INSURGENT IS. THEY DON'T WANT TO GIVE UP THE AREA, AND THEIR ABILITY TO USE THE CROP TO FUND IS INSURGENT. SOME ARE OUT AND OUT CRIMINALS. THEY DON'T WANT TO GIVE IT UP EITHER. AND SO THAT'S WHY. THE CHANGE IN GENERALS MAY HAVE AN EFFECT AT SOME LATER DATE. BUT THINK, ON THE GROUND FOR THE 19-YEAR-OLD GRUNT FROM CAMP PENDLETON, HIS WORK IS THE SAME TODAY AS IT WAS BEFORE THE "ROLLING STONE" ARTICLE. SO TONY, IT SOUNDS TO ME AS THOUGH THE CHALLENGE IN AFGHANISTAN IS MUCH FOR SEVERE THAN IT WAS JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO. AM I GETTING THE RIGHT SENSE FROM IT? TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, YOU ARE GLORIA. WE'RE RECOGNIZING THAT THE CHALLENGE IS GREATER. WE'RE STEPPING UP TO THE CHALLENGE. IT WAS JUST AS GREAT SIX MONTHS AGO. WE JUST WEREN'T ATTEMPTING TO CONFRONT IT. THIS IS A VERY FRACTURED, EXPANSIVE, COMPLEX COUNTRY, MUCH MORE SO THAN IRAQ. IRAQ IS SMALLER, WAS MORE EDUCATED. IT WAS CONTROLLABLE BY A CERTAIN GROUP, THE SUNNI SHAIKS WHERE THE MARINES WERE AND WERE VERY SUCCESSFUL. HERE THERE IS NOT ANYTHING QUITE AN GHOULS. IT'S MUCH MORE FRACTURED, YOU KNOW. SO THE WHOLE, AS I SAID POPPY AND CRIMINAL ELEMENT, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT. . I THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR BEING WITH US, AND PLEASE STAY SAFE, TONY PERRY. WILL DO.

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