This morning the U.S. military launched one of the largest offensives in recent U.S. military history in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The operation against Taliban fighters involves 4,000 Marines and hundreds of Afghani fighters. Joining The Takeaway now is Captain William Pelletier, U.S. military spokesman for the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, who is joining us from Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
"It's 110 degrees down here, we are in the Helmand desert, so we had some injuries with Marines that basically needed to be taken back, cooled down and hydrated. But no reports that I've heard.. of 'friendly' casualties. Nobody KIA, fortunately."
— Captain William Pelletier, from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province
John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: We go now to rugged, live Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where a major offensive in Afghanistan in that province is underway. We learned about it last night, and Captain William Pelletier is the spokesman for the U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force, 4,000 troops U.S. Marines, 650 Afghan soldiers. Is this, Captain Pelletier — and good morning to you — is this an attempt to grab territory in the pursuit of a counterinsurgency operation?
Captain William Pelletier: It’s not so much to grab territory as get some control of some territory and be able to clear it and then hold it so that the Afghan National Security forces we’re partnered with can come in, get firm control of the area and start to bring in the civil affairs folks, the people that are in charge and connected with the government and reconstruction of Helmand Province, which is the primary mission here.
John Hockenberry: Alright, Captain. So, again, we don’t want to violate any operational rules here this morning, but we do want to make some news here this morning. You’re describing a phased operation of taking territory, bringing the Afghan military in and then the civil authorities on top of that. Do you have enough civil personnel to deal with a province of 1.2 million people?
Captain William Pelletier: Well, the key here…the short answer is probably not enough people. So what we do is we have focus areas, and that’s one of the reasons that our operations were phased in going into certain towns in the districts, the population centers, those key areas of interest, focusing on those, and getting security established first in order to be able to set the conditions for the follow. The reason it’s been such a carefully phased approach is because we have to focus our resources and make sure that we’re focusing those to produce the best effect.
John Hockenberry: I can hear those resources moving around right around you there at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province. Is this operation being commanded by General McChrystal from Camp Leatherneck or is CENTCOM running this show?
Captain William Pelletier: I couldn’t say it was above the level of Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, who is commanding general for the offensive. We take our guidance from General McChrystal, his themes, his philosophy. He came down here a few days ago and briefed on this operation and other things. We understand his priorities. We understand very much his sense of concerns going into an operation like this. That’s one of the factors that’s had a very strong influence on developing this operation for us.
John Hockenberry: Captain Pelletier, very well said. And that’s fair enough. I don’t need any more details there. We are getting reports that there has been movement on the Pakistan side of the border to bring troops up to the border to prevent Taliban from escaping into Pakistan. Do you know if your commanders, and can you say if your commanders are in essentially operational contact with the Pakistanis at this point?
Captain William Pelletier: That I don’t know. I really don’t. Obviously, lines of communication from Pakistan have been an issue for us since we got here, even when it wasn’t part of our battle space it was still something that affected our operations because there are smuggling and supply lines that come up from Pakistan… maintaining an awareness of those things has been a priority for us.
John Hockenberry: Captain, two more things before we go. First of all, does this operation have a name? And a lot of people listening to this program… Captain. can you hear me?
Captain William Pelletier: Oh yeah, I gotcha.
John Hockenberry: A lot of people listening to this program are worried about casualties. Do you have any sort of guidance for people listening back home?
Captain William Pelletier: So far the only Marines we have injured in this, a couple that got injured during the initial insert, one hurt his leg and had to be evac’ed out. Nothing serious is what I’m told. It’s 110 degrees down here, we are in the Helmand desert, so we had some injuries with Marines that basically needed to be taken back, cooled down and hydrated. But no reports that I’ve heard, we don’t have anything about friendly casualties. Nobody KIA anyway, fortunately. No confirmed reports of enemy KIA, and have not heard any reports of civilian casualties.
John Hockenberry: We are certainly updated there. We appreciate that report from Camp Leatherneck.