Marjah: ‘It’s like a petting zoo in hell’

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines patrol by a child tending sheep in Marjah, Afghanistan. (Tom Brown//Staff)

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines patrol by a child tending sheep in Marjah, Afghanistan. (Tom Brown//Staff)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The slower pace of things here in the last few days have given me a chance to reflect on some of the more unexpected things that I’ve seen in the last six weeks while reporting from the southern half of this country.

One of those things is just how prevalent animals are — and how differently they are treated than in the U.S.

Marines on patrol regularly pass sheep, goats and cattle grazing through the area. When we were in Marjah with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, several things caught me off-guard. Some were sad, while others were simply a jarring reminder that we weren’t in the U.S. anymore. Consider the following:

** On my first patrol outside the wire with 3/6, the Marines I was with searched a deserted compound after finding spent AK47 rounds on a road in front. A note was left by its apparent owner saying that the compound was abandoned ahead of the initial February assault on Marjah, but a dog, chained to a pillar, had been left behind. It looked miserable, and probably didn’t make it through the week.

** On another occasion, Marines patrolling through a farm compound came face to face with snarling dog. Baring its teeth, it snapped against its chain, clearly trying to defend its turf and take a chunk out of a Marine’s leg — or worse — in the process. The Marines’ preferred option was to avoid it, but they trained their rifles on the dog in case it broke its chain. Children nearby saw the scenario playing out, and responded by pelting the dog with stones until it yelped repeatedly and laid down.

An Afghan soldier patrolling with Marines recoils after a dog begins snarling at him. (Thomas Brown/Staff)

An Afghan soldier patrolling with Marines recoils after a dog begins snarling at him. (Thomas Brown/Staff)

** Not long after a group of Kilo Company 3/6 Marines we were traveling with east of Marjah were ambushed, I was surprised to see a 6-year-old girl slit the throat on a chicken, assumedly to prepare it for dinner. Five minutes later, she stepped on her pet dog’s head to keep it from moving as Marines patrolled by.

I assume many of these situations struck me due to the cultural differences between Afghanistan and the U.S. They’re certainly striking sights for Americans, however. For the Marines, they can also be distracting: In addition to worrying about the Taliban and any number of other problems, they must also watch for herds of goats that get in the way, flocks of sheep that block roads and strange breeds of dogs that frequently seem to approach 100 pounds.

As one frustrated squad leader described Marjah: “It’s like a petting zoo in hell.”

Add it to the list of difficulties that Marines face.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Charles langston on

    The important thing is to stay focused and take extreme precaution. You are there for a cause and your efforts are to no avail. We are all proud of every soldier that serves. The things you see will make you appreciate where you come from and the freedom we have in the United States.

    God Bless

  2. How much do you guys focus on learning
    the customs, language, tribal politics
    and things like that?
    Can you speak any of the language?

  3. It’s so funny how you mention all this. Why not take a trip thru the back roads of America and you will see the same thing. I live on a Native American reservation and everything you mentioned is commonplace. I know when I was there and in Iraq, it almost felt like home. Semper Fi Marines…

  4. +1 to what Aaron said. I see the same thing when I go onto the Navajo Reservation here in AZ. It’s wierd how a people who think of themself as children of the Earth treat animals. Especially dogs, that are kicked by children for fun.
    In mooslem lands I can see this happening due to their faith: dogs, pigs are what they call Jews and other infadels.
    It is still disturbing to see it on a regular basis. Just goes to show that there are jerks wherever you go.

  5. Proud Marine Mom on

    It must be hard to see the animals that are mistreated. The Marines I know through my son are real animal lovers.

    Thank you for your sacrifices for those of us who can’t–for whatever reason–be there in the fight with you. Even having to see things like this does something to you inside that will never go away.

    God bless you and keep you safe!

  6. nato soldier on

    I remember the dogs in Afghanistan, we always made jokes about them afterwards. But they were huge intimidating creatures that always looked as if though ready to have you for breakfast. And yes, weapons would be trained on them when passing by.

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  9. Just make sure you stay focused on the task at hand. Any distraction can lead to a mistake where lives could be lost. I am sure combat patrolling has not changed to much from 1994 with the same precautions in effect.

  10. Hi Daniel,
    I love reading your stories, they really bring your reality and the marines reality to life (at least as much as possible) for people back home like me. Cathy (mother of LT Furlong Thomas 3/6 India Co.) referred me to your link and I truly enjoy reading. I will be in Afghanistan shortly (not in the same element I am sure) but your writting gives me a peak into the world of those on the front line. If you do run in to Tommy again tell him Katie says “a little over one month and I’ll tag him out” Semper Fi

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