Story and photo by Cpl. Adam Leyendecker
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Just outside of Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, insurgents still occasionally emplace improvised explosive devices into the sand and fields where local children play, farmers tend flocks, and coalition and Afghan National Security Forces conduct patrols. By contrast, the day after one group of coalition forces encountered an IED near the base, Afghan National Army soldiers gave food and built relationships with locals, Aug. 27.
During the food distribution, ANA soldiers with the 215th Corps, along with U.S. Marines with the Houston-based 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, entered two villages to hand out food, tea and discuss needs and concerns of the residents.
During the month of Ramadan, which began in early August, Afghans have fasted during daytime hours. They don’t consume anything from sunrise to sunset. This fasting has taken a toll on the locals physically and slowed down the normal agricultural work flow. With slower work and less production, local farmers can lose income and therefore find it harder to buy food.
However, ANA forces have taken the lead in making sure locals have plenty of food as Ramadan comes to a close in the next few days. The soldiers provided the farmers with tea and several 25 kilogram bags of flour for each village, along with wheat. The locals patiently waited and braved the heat, their bodies thin and weak from a month of fasting.
Several soldiers told Marines how happy they were to be able to give something to their own people. The Marines said they were happy to be able to provide the food to the ANA as a sign of appreciation for the Afghan culture.
“The sooner we can hand things over to the ANA the better, because they are the ones taking over after we leave,” said 1st Lt. Andrev B. Swedenborg, commander of 3rd platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, and a native of Detroit. “By us being there and taking a step back, it shows that we are there to help the ANA help themselves.”
The Afghan soldiers also conducted small shuras, or meetings, at each village to discuss the needs and concerns of each village. During the shuras the ANA troops reinforced to the locals the importance of working with the government to keep security and stability in the area.
The Afghan soldiers hope word will spread to other villages that if communities work with the ANA and coalition aid, support and basic government services can be expected in return.
During a shura one village elder rose to his feet and issued a proclamation to the rest of his community.
“It’s better work with these guys,” he said. “They are our true friends. They want to help us, (whereas) the guys planting IED’s are hindering our lives and the lives of our children.”
At the end of the day the goal of the ANA mission was to establish relationships with the local populace. By helping the local villages around Camp Leatherneck, the ANA hope to achieve stronger relationships and trust with the populace.
More photos here.