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Marines searching for al Qaeda fighters

Rob Morrison
Rob Morrison  

(CNN) -- U.S. Marines in Afghanistan are concentrating on finding Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters. CNN spoke with pool reporter Rob Morrison about this focus from his post with Marines at Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan.

ROB MORRISON: You might remember two nights ago is when Marines said they saw some enemy forces out there in the distance probing the perimeter. ...They fired up some illumination rounds and were trying to get a look at the perimeter around this base. They encountered some heavy artillery fire. The Marines basically fired some mortars at them. It was quite an eventful night. ...

Now the change in mission ... Indeed, we just found out about this today, and it has directly to do with the changing, evolving and volatile situation in Kandahar.

Basically the Marines are out there, as they have been, in their hunter-killer teams -- the reconnaissance teams and the patrols are out there around this base and around Kandahar. They're heavily armed with Cobra attack helicopters, with heavily armed vehicles, .50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers and TOW missiles. Also Marines (are) out there on foot, in some instances. And they are still looking for those al Qaeda fighters -- the fighters who have said they are going to fight to the death.

The way this has changed is that they are no longer so interested in the Taliban fighters who are willing to lay down their arms and walk away from this fight.

CNN: There are reports this morning about a really touching moment amid all of this -- the burial of an Afghan opposition fighter. I know you witnessed this. Tell us what you saw and what the Marines did.

MORRISON: Indeed, the Marines held a burial ceremony right here at Camp Rhino. And it was for an Afghan opposition fighter, one of Karzai's (Hamid Karzai, appointed to head an interim, post-Taliban government) men who was killed in that unfortunate incident earlier in the week -- the friendly fire incident north of Kandahar, when a B-52 bomb missed its mark. It also killed three American soldiers.

Basically the Marines had a ceremony. And it was a nondenominational ceremony. A Marine major who is also a Catholic lay minister spoke. A Marine corporal who is Muslim read from the Koran and prayed. And they buried him here at Camp Rhino.

Although it was nondenominational, the Marines went to great lengths to observe all Muslim traditions. They really had no guidance on this because, frankly, there is no government in place right now to give them any guidance. So the Marines are quite good at making things up on the run, shall we say -- making things up as they go. They put together this ceremony. They thought it was very appropriate. And it really went a long way to showing the unity between the opposition fighters and the coalition fighters. They share that common bond. And that common bond, of course, is the fight for freedom.

CNN: As night falls there, (what is) the tempo and the rhythm of engagement there for the Marines? Is there a lot of activity at night, or do they tend to limit their activities more to the daylight hours?

MORRISON: Well, the Marine patrols that I told you about -- those very lethal hunter-killer teams -- they are out constantly. Of course, the only activity that we have witnessed so far has been at night -- the probing of the perimeter I told you about. And also two nights ago, that very same night up near Kandahar, the Marines engaged in their very first ground offensive action. They have secured all the supply and evacuation routes, they believe, around Kandahar.

Basically they encountered a caravan. It was moving at them at a high rate of speed attempting to run a roadblock. The Marines fired upon them. They called in some fixed-wing aircraft. They killed seven enemy forces and they destroyed three vehicles.

The only activity we've really seen has been at night. However, those patrols and the reconnaissance teams I told you about are operating around the clock.


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