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Marine quick reaction force starts to settle into southern Afghanistan

The focus of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is largely security, but will include humanitarian work.

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The Marine contingent arriving now at the massive airfield here in Kandahar will be tasked to become a quick reaction force that the senior NATO commander says will give him new flexibility to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Coming as the spring and summer fighting season begins, the deployment of the roughly 2,300 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will help to better focus military efforts against the resurgent Taliban, observers say.

But Col. Peter Petronzio, who commands the 24th MEU, is seeking to manage expectations. "We're not the cavalry, we're not here to save the day, we're not here because other people can't do their jobs," he says in his plywood-paneled office. "We're here just to help."

The unit will perform a special duty here as a "theater tactical force," designed to deploy across Afghanistan if needed. And it will report directly to Army Gen. Dan McNeill, the senior NATO commander here.

"It helps me to have a force – and the US is most flexible and viable when it comes to this – to ... go where I say to go and do what I say to do without a whole lot of hesitation," General McNeill says.

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