Afghanistan: Tough Mission for Marines

60 Minutes: Officer Describes The Restraint He Imposes On His Increasingly Frustrated Troops

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This story was originally published on Oct. 11, 2009. It was updated on July 18, 2010.

If the United States can win in Afghanistan, it will be thanks to the privates and corporals who are now being asked to turn around an eight-year war with a brand new strategy.

"60 Minutes" and correspondent Scott Pelley saw how tough it is when we spent three weeks with the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines regiment, part of the first troop increase ordered by President Obama. The new plan sounds simple: separate the enemy from the people, then convince the Afghans to support their government. But it requires more forces, more time and more risk.

Golf Company: Number Eight

Last fall, the president sent another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

And back then, we joined with the battalion's Company G, "Golf Company," which was taking the highest casualties in the Taliban homeland.

In September, the men of Golf Company assembled for roll call in their combat outpost. First Sergeant Robert Pullen shouted for Marines who could not answer.

This was the roll of the dead.

The company's 200 Marines paused for a battlefield memorial, for the seven they call "brothers" killed in action: Lance Corporal Jonathan F. Stroud; Lance Corporal Gregory A. Posey; Lance Corporal Dennis J. Burrow; Lance Corporal Javier Olvera; Lance Corporal Patrick W. Schimmel; Lance Corporal Leopold F. Damas; and Lance Corporal David R. Hall.

This was Golf Company last summer, pushing into a part of Afghanistan never occupied by U.S. troops. They were ambushed repeatedly by the Taliban, the enemy that carries the name of the fundamentalist Islamic government overthrown in the U.S. invasion after 9/11.

But the enemy isn't one force: "Taliban" is a catch-all for a collection of tribes and warlords. Some are religious extremists, some are drug traffickers, and in Golf Company's area, many are locals fighting for money.

Golf Company set up in Koshtay, a village in the Garmsir District of Helmand Province near Pakistan.

It's a strange twist of history that Golf Company's area used to be called "Little America." In the 1950s, a massive U.S. foreign aid project dug the canals that now feed half the world's heroin poppies, and shoulder-high marijuana, both prime sources of Taliban cash.

Golf Company covers just a few square miles. The job is to push the Taliban out and stay in place.

Second Lieutenant Dan O'Hara from Chicago is a platoon leader. It's his first combat tour, and two of his Marines had been killed.

Asked how he can distinguish the enemy from citizens, O'Hara told Pelley, "For the most part, you don't until they start shooting at you. And even then, their tactic is hit and run. They will shoot and before you get the chance to close on them, they will run away and kind of just run back into the population."

Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss leads the 2/8 battalion. He sent Golf Company into battle with orders to use restraint.