COMBAT OUTPOST TAGHAZ, Afghanistan – If you’re going to spend a month in Afghanistan, you may as well visit the frontier while you’re there.
Photographer Colin Kelly and I moved across Helmand province’s Khanashin district today, hopping a long convoy ride here from Combat Outpost Payne.
We rolled through the desert with Marine Border Adviser Team 1. The unit is attached to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., but primarily comprises Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and other West Coast installations.
BAT-1 – and yes, they use a bat signal as a logo some of the time – is charged with advising several Afghan Border Police units in southern Helmand province.
The ABP patrol the desert and its towns, and have grown confidence since Marines pulled back this summer from living alongside them, said Maj. Max Hopkins, BAT-1’s commander. BAT-1 still lives nearby and visits, but reducing the day-to-day interaction is part of the effort to push Afghan National Security Forces into the lead across Afghanistan.
“There’s still a lot for us to work with them on, and they’re really good about saying, ‘Hey, we’d like some more training on this,'” Hopkins said.
The village of Taghaz is near this base, and so is the new home for one of the ABP’s kandaks, or battalions. There isn’t much else out here, other than a rolling desert filled with camels – hundreds of them – and the occasional donkey. It’s the Marine Corps’ southwestern most permanent position in Afghanistan – a nice complement to my spring embed, when photographer Jason Lee and I visited The Shrine, the northernmost Marine position at that time.
Far off in the distance, there’s an impressive mountain peak, Khanashin Ghar, that rises from the desert horizon. Hopkins said it’s actually a volcano that is near several areas that include rich mineral deposits, including marble. The Afghan government has shown an interest in developing the region.