PATROL BASE GORGAK, Afghanistan --
“In a district where we literally just cleared the Taliban from walking the streets, you’ve got a community that’s willing to step forward and open a girls school.”
That was Lt. Col. Matthew Reid’s assessment of the latest major coalition breakthrough in Central Helmand province.
Earlier that day, Reid, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, addressed approximately 300 locals during the ribbon cutting of the Laki Girls School, Feb. 15.
The lieutenant colonel, who commands a battalion in the Garmsir district, promised them the Taliban will never rule Afghanistan again.
“This community is very forward looking,” he said, describing the region of Laki, in Garmsir district.
According to the commanding officer, the locals weren't coaxed into opening the school; they suggested it to coalition forces.
In fact, the girls school has a bit of a history in Laki.
Before Taliban occupation, it was women's center, said Staff Sgt. George Saggeth, a team chief with 3rd Civil Affairs Group. However, the Taliban prohibited women from gathering in public and closed the facility.
Now, the facility is ready for approximately 180 female students. It consists of six eight-by-five-foot rooms, a teacher’s lounge, a water pump, latrines and a guard post, which will be manned by local security personnel.
Saggeth said planning for the girls school began five months ago, near the end of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's tour in Garsmir district.
Since then, the Taliban's presence in Laki has gradually faded to virtually nothing. An Afghan National police station stands approximately a kilometer from the girls school. On a regular basis, Marines meet there with Amir Sha Jahn, the local police chief. The police and Marines team up with ANA soldiers to patrol local villages.
Together, coalition forces survey the residents about potential civil affairs projects like the girls school. They ask how projects are coming and take suggestions for new ones.
Coalition forces still watch closely for the Taliban, but the Taliban are seldom seen in Laki.
According to Sgt. Matt Reid, a squad leader with Redemption II, Weapons Company, 2/1, Taliban in the region are now limited to planting IEDs, but they haven't any recent success. Weapons Company, which patrols Laki, has found each IED they’ve encountered since arriving in Afghanistan almost four months ago. What’s more, he said, they’ve found almost all through local tips.
Sgt. Reid said Weapons Company's main focus is now civil affairs projects.
Improvements to the school continue. Saggeth said he is obtaining a generator, working fans and working lights. Also, the Weapons Company Marines have playground equipment they plan to deliver soon, he added.
After the girls school, civil affairs work in Laki continues, and for the Laki community, another blessing lays on the not-too-distant horizon. A boys school in the nearby village of Shah Wali Kahn is underway, and Saggeth predicts it will be finished in three months.
“This is the model for winning right now,” said Lt. Col. Reid. “We continue to be the model.”