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EXCLUSIVE: With the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, last days in enemy territory

After ten years at war, the United States has begun to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. In Helmand province, one of the most dangerous parts of the country, our reporters embedded with the very first unit to pull out: the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Codename: Darkside.

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“OK, you’re going to get what you want: we’re going to patrol up north tomorrow. We’ll probably get shot at.” That’s Lieutenant Joseph Hanson talking, a 24 year-old officer of the U.S. Marine Corps. He has 40 Marines under his command and a small scar on his chest where he was hit by a bullet last June, on his birthday.

The promise of getting shot at has us pretty pumped up. Sylvain Rousseau and I have been embedded with the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines for ten days and we haven’t seen a single round fired. We’re here to cover the beginning of the American pullout from Afghanistan, so fighting is not really the focus of our report, but if truth be told, I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the world’s best fighting forces in action. Plus, it’s their job to protect me in case of attack, so I’m not particularly worried about my security. 

But in the end…no one got shot at. That day Hanson’s team had a lot of “ass”, Marine-talk for firepower. Attack helicopters, heavy machine guns and an extra squad of soldiers, just in case. So the Taliban fighters who had been spotted coming into the village decided not to pick a fight that morning. 

The Marines are not allowed to search houses here without being invited in by locals… so they were left with little choice but to return to base. And for most of the men, the walk back that day felt different: it was their very last patrol in Afghanistan, at the end of a 7-month deployment.

The 3rd battalion, 4th Marines is the very first American unit to pull out of Afghanistan. Our report tells the story of their last days in enemy territory. 

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