NAWA, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Sooner, rather than later, the Marine presence in Nawa will dwindle down as Afghan police and soldiers take over complete responsibility for the security and stability of the region.
At the Nawa District bazaar Sept. 3, a scene from Afghanistan’s possible future unfolds.
Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and Afghan National Police officers from the Nawa District Center Police Station conduct vehicle checkpoints as part of security for the bazaar.
Marines man the checkpoints alone for the first hour, but once the Afghan police arrive the Marines assume a supervisory role and provide additional security. The Marines will assist with searching vehicles if they start piling up, but for the most part the checkpoints are Afghan-led.
“We’re trying to set it up so it’s Afghans helping out Afghans,” said Sgt. Christopher Conaway, a squad leader with Kilo Company. “We want to make sure they can cover this area by themselves whenever we leave.”
Since first partnering with the police more than four months back, Conaway said he’s seen big improvements thanks to training and growing camaraderie.
“We’ve made it our mission to prepare them and enable them to take care of themselves,” Conaway, from Marshall, Mo., said.
Manning the checkpoints can be a daunting task as each Friday the bazaar draws in Afghans from all over the region. On Sept. 3 traffic was a little lighter than usual, most likely because it took place during Ramadan, but still hundreds of Afghans passed through the southern checkpoints alone.
Running the checkpoints is a delicate balance between being thorough enough to ensure nothing is brought into the bazaar that could put lives in danger, and also being swift enough to keep traffic moving.
“It’s rough trying to keep traffic flowing and things can get backed up, but we have to do our job regardless,” said Lance Cpl. David A. Zamora, a rifleman with Kilo Company. “We do what we can to keep things moving and you can tell the people appreciate the security.”
Zamora, and other Marines, had to step in on occasion to assist, but for the most part it appeared the Marines’ mentoring is paying off. The Afghans could feel safe shopping at their bazaar while being protected by Afghan police, with Marines in the background … for now.