Nightly News | November 20, 2010
LESTER HOLT, anchor (Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan): a chopper ride with a top Marine in Helmand province , Major General Richard Mills . We went to the town of Marjah , where coalition forces and the Taliban engaged in one of the fiercest battles of this war. Months after the massive offensive began, Mills and his troops continue to fight the enemy while also trying to win over the people. It was one of the war's biggest offensives, the battle of Marjah , a small farming town in the poppy capital of the world , Helmand province , and a Taliban stronghold. A year ago, before the battle, Marines couldn't even fly over this town, the ground fire was so intense. Today Major General Richard Mills , who commands this region, is taking me there by chopper -- albeit a heavily armed one -- to show me why he says Marjah is a model of US success. We land at Company Outpost Kelly , where Marines fought and shed blood in some of the fiercest battles. Only recently, they tell me, did it become safe enough to take a walk outside their perimeter.
Lieutenant Colonel KYLE ELLISON (United States Marine Corps): We fought here in this area, down these roads, in all the surrounding terrain that you see every day, several times a day for hours at a time for our first four and a half months here on our deployment.
HOLT: IEDs remain a deadly foe outside Marjah 's center, and so no chances are taken. For part of our journey we ride in a mine-resistant vehicle.
Major General RICHARD MILLS: The wounds that we get from these really cruel, senseless weapons, they are horrific. Multiple amputations, absolutely devastating wounds to the human body. I stand in awe of our young -- of our young Marines today who get up every day, pick up that weapon and they move outside the wire knowing what's out here. And yet they do it. They do it well.
HOLT: As-salamu alaikum. But in Marjah 's center, where bullets once flew, we are free to walk. The Marines have secured this part of town and built relationships with local leaders. I ask a local shop owner about Marjah then and now. He says things are better and says, 'We want peace, not fighting. That's what we all want.' General Mills is not concerned talk of exit strategies and timelines will leave residents feeling abandoned by the Americans.
Maj. Gen. MILLS: We've always made it clear that we are here to provide them security so they can begin to develop, to work with their security forces to gain their -- raise their capacity. And once they're ready to stand up on the -- on their own two feet, then we would leave.
HOLT: The Marines very badly want to replicate their success in Marjah in other parts of Helmand province . The question is, what happens when the Marines leave? Already, a first attempt to build a local police force here failed. They were outsiders, corrupt, and alienated the population. A new force, including many local men, is faring better.
Maj. Gen. MILLS: These are brave young guys who have volunteered.
HOLT: As these Marines do their part in taking the offensive while laying the seeds of an eventual handover to Afghan troops, they do so with no illusions the Taliban will go quietly.
Maj. Gen. MILLS: Very pretty!
HOLT: Still, the man leading the fight here believes the success in Marjah can be replicated.
Maj. Gen. MILLS: There are other places in Helmand province that I've still got a task to do. And we're still going to have casualties, and there's still -- there's still -- there's still rolling to be done. But we're going to do that. And each of -- each of them will eventually become Marjahs , and then each of them will become even better than Marjah .
HOLT: And to underscore the fight still to come and the battle still being waged there, the Marines announced this week they're bringing in 16 heavy, big battle tanks to give them more firepower in that region.