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Walter Rodgers: Marines await action near Kandahar

CNN's Walter Rodgers  

CNN's Walter Rodgers is part of a pool of reporters at the outpost established by U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan. He spoke Saturday with CNN's Kyra Phillips.

RODGERS: It's night here in the deserts of southern Afghanistan, and U.S. Marine light armored vehicles are fanning out on reconnaissance missions. Nightly patrols are searching out any pockets of Taliban resistance or perhaps efforts by the Taliban to infiltrate and penetrate the perimeter of the makeshift air base the Marines have established.

The Marines' actual contact with the Taliban has been limited so far. These light armored units are supported by Cobra helicopters, and in the darkness of the desert night, everyone wears night-vision goggles.

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The problem for the Marines is the Taliban have integrated themselves into the civilian population in southern Afghanistan. That means that as the Marines discover cars crisscrossing the desert at night, they must determine who are the real civilians and who is carrying gasoline and other supplies to the remaining Taliban fighters in this area -- some of whom are believed to still have Soviet-vintage tanks and armor.

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The worst enemy most of the Marine battalion will encounter is a bitter December night to be suffered and endured in "fighting holes" on the perimeter of the air base.

They have other enemies in their fighting holes -- isolation and boredom. One sergeant told me his main job was ranging the perimeter from mortar nest to mortar nest, just telling the dug-in Marines the latest basketball or football scores or the latest gains made by the Northern Alliance around Kandahar.

Nearly every Marine with whom I spoke was yearning for a fight, for a chance to prove themselves in combat. "Anything is better than sitting in these holes in the desert," one Marine corporal said.

Meanwhile, the supply buildup continues. More cargo flights are expected to land on this dry lake bed Saturday evening. Every night they offload more and more supplies in great clouds of choking dust. This as other Marines sit in their tents or their fighting holes, waiting for orders that will tell them they will be able to test themselves against the Taliban.

PHILLIPS: What are the rules of engagement if in fact a Marine does identify an enemy vehicle or activity? What's the next course of action -- surveillance or engagement?

RODGERS: I can answer that by what has happened so far. On November 26, a Navy plane discovered what it saw was a convoy in southern Afghanistan. The Navy called the Marines. The Marines had helicopters, Cobra gunships. [They] move in and check out the convoy to determine whether it was civilian vehicles or a military convoy. The Marine helicopters then radioed up to the fighter-bomber pilots in the F-14 up above, and the F-14 then struck at the Taliban military convoy.

I can't tell you the operational orders. I can tell you what happened in the past, and so far the Marines have been very careful about engaging the Taliban, and they have been working in unison with Navy fighter-bomber pilots.


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