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In Afghanistan war, marines' struggle to recruit locals could delay US exit

In Khan Neshin, near the Pakistan border, recruitment of locals for the Afghanistan war effort is an often frustrating process. Obstacles include candidates' drug use, illiteracy, and fear of the Taliban.

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United States Marines interview a local Afghan while on a patrol in Qwual-e-now, in the volatile Helmand province of southern Afghanistan Friday.

Kevin Frayer/AP

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The challenges with recruiting and training Afghan security forces in unstable parts of the country calls into question the ability to draw down international forces in 18 months.

Those Afghans willing to step forward to join are often constrained by outsider status, illiteracy, drug use, as well as lure of higher Taliban salaries and the fear of attacks on their families. Attracting a better breed of recruit – particularly those native to troubled regions – may require intensive efforts by international troops to improve security.

That’s the effort being undertaken in Helmand, a frontline province where the Marines have committed 10,000 troops to take – and stay in – Afghan towns and villages. Now they are just beginning to recruit and train residents of newly protected areas in the hope of producing more durable and independent forces.

“The police have taken more casualties than anyone else, therefore it’s crucial to be able to establish a safe area for them to be recruited from and trained in,” says Lt. Col. (ret.) Christopher Langton, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Marines stormed into southern Helmand this July, pushing as far south as Khan Neshin, just 70 miles from the Pakistani border. Five months later, the safer atmosphere has begun to yield some recruits: Half of a new batch of 13 police recruits in Khan Nesin are from the surrounding farming town.

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