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First, the police in Marjah took a stand. As the Taliban massed to the north, the locals hopped into their trucks and went on the offensive. Then came curious thing number two: The Afghan army showed up for support. If Afghanistan’s government is going to hold the country after 2014, this is exactly the kind of inter-force cooperation that will be required. It doesn’t always happen. The point to remember is that, on that day in 2012, the Afghan police and military rallied--on their own.

The Taliban got slaughtered. And it wasn't funny-slaughtered.A two-day battle ensued. The police went field to field, compound to compound, hunting down insurgents. The Taliban fighters, who were outsiders, tried to regroup but couldn’t. They kept getting cut off by the locals, who knew the area better. Meanwhile, the army backfilled, setting up checkpoints and reinforcing positions. By the time it was over, the bullet-ridden bodies of about half of the attackers lay strewn across town. The other half, still living, high-tailed it back up north.

“They just dogpiled them,” says Marine Lt. Col. Phil Treglia, the leader of a team of military advisers working with units from the 1st brigade of the 215 Corps (1/215), which is responsible for the southern part of Helmand. “The Taliban got slaughtered. And it wasn’t funny-slaughtered.” Treglia knows from urban warfare. He spent four weeks in 2004 fighting his way through Fallujah during one of the fiercest battles of the Iraq war. Treglia now stands in his shoebox-style office on Camp Dwyer in Helmand, pointing out the Marjah battle movements on a large map. “There were bodies in the cornfields and bodies in houses,” he says, warming to the story as if recounting a particularly stupendous rout by his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. “The Taliban had come in, kicked some people out, explained how they were badasses and how they were going to attack Marjah,” Treglia says, now on a roll. “By the time the police got done with them, it wasawesome.” He beams, sounding half proud papa, half teenage gamer describing a sweet session of Call of Duty.

Treglia's brigade advisers worked with Afghan army leaders, but he also managed adviser teams of 20 to 30 guys that were embedded with the Afghans at the battalion or "kandak” level in Afghan parlance. Treglia’s theory involved yanking those lower level teams out. In their place, he wanted to leave two- or four-man liaison teams, called “LNOs.” It wasn’t a new idea. It was used in Vietnam. But it was new here. With LNOs, the Afghans could have the freedom to start operating on their own, while the Americans still had a few people on hand to monitor their progress and send up smoke signals in case the Afghans were in danger. “Our opinion was, if we do this now, we’ll see failure now and [be able to] reinforce,” explains Capt. Richard L. Shinn, Treglia’s operations officer. If the Americans waited to see where failure popped up until after they’d left, they’d lose the ability to plug the holes. “We’d just be left on the sidelines to watch,” says Shinn.

The big problem Treglia's plan was that it clashed with the advising paradigm set out at the highest levels of the NATO coalition. Advising was supposed to be all-or-nothing. Either you had a full adviser team or you had nothing. How would teams of two or four be able to protect themselves? And not just from outsiders. All of this was happening at the height of “green-on-blue" killings--murders of coalition troops by Afghan soldiers.

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