1/6’s Alpha battery thumps insurgents

In the early hours of the morning, before the first roosters crow, Marines from Alpha Battery place their remaining rounds inside trucks and rig the last of their M777 Howitzers for towing. They ride to a nearby operating base and in a stir of sweat and sand recalibrate their cannons for the new location and are once again mission capable.  


In a matter of minutes the Marines entrenched the Howitzers, prepared an assortment of shells for fire and draped camouflage across their newly formed gun line.


“Within last 24 hours we did a complete march order.  This consists of breaking down the Howitzer, loading up the truck, you have to get all the fire essential gear up and get moving,” said Lance Cpl.  Paul Adey, cannoneer, Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion,6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, ISAF. “We just got here right now and we are fire capped, ready to fire, if need be.”


For the majority of the deployment the artillery battery was isolated on a plateau overlooking friendly positions, a large contrast from how these weapons and Marines are employed in Iraq.  


“Other batteries, when they go to Iraq are usually in a FOB (forward operating base) like we are now, but we were outside the wire pretty much on our own. The main difference was being out there and not having any other security, out there in the middle of the desert providing everything for ourselves,” said Adey.


The Marines have a certain pride about their months in the desert, not just in the less-than luxurious living conditions, but also for their role in taking the insurgent-riddled city district of Garmsir.


“When we first got here, the first three weeks to a month we were putting rounds down range pretty heavily. We had fire missions all the time, we were working pretty hard, but as time went by, things calmed down. We got word that people were stopping fights because of artillery fire,” explains Adey.


Cpl. Cody Saunders, cannoneer, Alpha Battery, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF, an Iraq veteran after a tour with the battery, knows just how lucky these Marines are to make contributions to the battle from the gun line.


“My first one (deployment) I did military police work. I drove around and patrolled the area. This one is more fun, I am actually doing my job and I get to save lives. We have been really, really busy. These weapon systems are new; we just got them about a year ago. We have shot more rounds out of these guns then pretty much any other battery,” explains Saunders, second in command on his howitzer.


When he mentions saving lives, he says it so matter-of-factly, so modestly that it takes a second to realize the magnitude of his statement. As the cannoneer tasked with pulling the cord and ultimately sending shells into enemy positions, he is keenly aware of his impact on the battlefield.


“The grunts are down there getting into a firefight and need help, so we need to get rounds down range to help them out,” said the Texan.


According to the First Sgt. Fortunato Rubio, company first sergeant, Alpha Battery, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF, the Marines round expenditure was unprecedented.


“In a matter of 35-40 days the battery shot 1,200 rounds. It’s almost unheard of for artillery to fire that amount. If you compare to Iraq, mostly IED’s (improvised explosive devices), here it was actually no kidding a combined arms mission, infantry elements, air support and artillery. It was a classic combined arms operations, said Rubio.


First Lieutenant Daniel Brown executive officer, Alpha Battery, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF, puts the numbers into context.


“I can tell you for a fact that no one has shot this much arty (in 10th Marines) since the end of 2003,” said Brown.


When word reached 10th Marine Regiment headquarters, the battery’s parent command back in North Carolina, the regimental commander sent a congratulatory email to the men, said Brown.


While indirect fire missions are the prime mission and capability of artillery Marines, it is but one of a number of tasks they are trained to handle. Even before they moved into this forward base the Marines were in charge of the Civil Military Operations Center in Garmsir, a place for locals to receive payments for damages caused during the fight for the city. By moving they now have more manpower for their other tasks including operating two convoy units which provide security and logistics support.


“Every battery in the Marine Corps, because of the necessity for mobility and being able to move to a lot of things at one time, gives us the ability to do things that an infantry battalion can’t,” Brown said referring to their two convoy elements


“It’s definitely unique with what we bring to the fight because there is that flexibly with being able to do anything that can be required, provisional infantry, civil affairs, we are able to do a number of things and still in the end go back to fire artillery; what we are best at. I guess we are jacks of all trades, master of one.”


It has been weeks since the last exchanges of fire with insurgents, but the battery’s Marines still approach each day with the same vigilance as when operations began. Convoys come and go, villagers receive battle damage payments, and looming under a canopy the gun line stands watch.  Shells sit patiently stacked in lines and columns, always just a lanyard-pull away from adding to the record setting number of fire missions, or as Saunders would think, one pull away from saving a fellow Marines’ life.






Operation Azada Wosa: Recounting the 24th MEU’s progress in Garmsir


Seven to 10 Days


            Soon after changing deployment plans in mid-January and arriving in Afghanistan mid-March, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit began planning for counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan, specifically focusing on the Garmsir District of Helmand Province.    


“The geography of Afghanistan is the geography of water.  People live, crops grow and trade routes are all located within 10 kilometers either side of the river.  Beyond that – it is barren desert,” said Col Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.


The water in Helmand Province is the Helmand River – the longest river in Afghanistan.  It runs north to south through the center of the province and through the center of Garmsir.  In the northern part of Garmsir there is an intricate canal and irrigation system, built by USAID in the 1950’s.  Looking at a map and seeing how the Helmand River bulges at the northern edge of the district, it looks like the head of a snake.  Which is why the Marines dubbed the area the “snake’s head”. 


            With their eyes turned to Garmsir, the Marines’ first task was to secure key routes though the district center – just south of the southernmost British forward operating base, and a region in which NATO-ISAF forces had not had a presence in years.  This operation was only going to take a few days, seven to 10 or so. 


            Although the southern border of Afghanistan is porous and offers many routes through – all traffic converges on the river.   Garmsir was a stronghold that allowed a throughput for insurgent’s logistics


            “Fighters and weapons funneled through there, it was a stop along the way to other locations in and out of Afghanistan,” said Maj. Carl McCleod, intelligence officer, 24th MEU, ISAF. 


            Knowing this, the true value of that land to the insurgents did not become clear until after the insurgents engaged Marines and refused to quickly concede.


     “We were told that the insurgents would fight for a few days and then they would scatter,” McCleod said, “but that’s not what happened.” 



Launching Operation Azada Wosa


     It’s April 28th  and more than 1,000 Marines sit and wait, some near helicopters that will deliver them to battle, others in vehicles parked in a vast, vacant desert, all covered by a moonless sky and unaware of a hitch that would delay their assault.


     At 9:39 pm AV-8 Harriers are set to launch from Kandahar Airfield but there’s a problem: the refueling tanker support is temporarily lost.  Without refuel capabilities the planes are grounded.  This delay has a ripple effect on the entire operation – setting everything back about 40 minutes and requiring some on-the-spot creative problem solving.


     “We couldn’t punch into the predetermined landing zones because we didn’t have the objective secure or at least have eyes-on it (from the Harriers),” said that night’s air mission commander Capt. Brandon L.  Whitfield, officer in charge, Tactics and Planning, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-365, 24th MEU, ISAF.  “I had to push the skids (the AH-1Ws and UH-1Ns – the fire support from above) in first, which was completely not planned – but it worked out, to get eyes-on, to make sure the landing zone was secure and then I had to bring the assault (the troops in the CH-46E and CH-53E helicopters) in.” 


     At 11:20 pm the first wave of Marines, in transport helicopters, depart for the landing area, followed two hours later by wave two, and so on under KC-130 provided battlefield illumination until dawn.


            In the first hours of the insert some Marines jokingly call the operation: Operation Rolled Ankle.  Marines charging off aircraft in the dark, along with the unfamiliar and difficult terrain and the weight of full combat load and sustainment gear combine to form a perfect storm of ankle and leg injuries.  At one point during the insert the battalion commander, Lieutenant Col. Anthony Henderson, comes over the radio and says, “When you come off the helo, it’s quiet here, so WALK off the aircraft.”


By 3:00 am motorized Charlie Company arrives at a pre-staged launching point near the southernmost friendly outpost, south of them three Alpha Company Marines, two sprained ankles and one broken leg, are evacuated from the landing zone.


As the first beams of light break over the eastern horizon the Marines are in place, Charlie Company is set to create a diversion in the north and Alpha and Bravo Companies are inserted into their objectives to the south. The plan being that insurgents could not react to a three pronged attack and they would certainly not be ready for the Marines when they woke up in the morning, explained Maj. Mark D. McCarroll, battery commander, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF.


“They had no idea we were going to land that far south.  They weren’t prepared for us.  We literally dropped in behind them,” said McLeod.  “It took them a few days to realize we were there in that size of force behind them.”



            With adrenaline pumping through their veins, Marines perform the last few function checks on gear and weapons.  Birds chirp in the trees, and it’s quiet enough to hear the babbling water in the canals.  This is as tranquil Garmsir will be for the next month.



35 days and 170 enemy engagements



     Just after 8:00 am on the 29th the sound of automatic weapons firing crackled through the air, Charlie Company, motorized but clearing the north on foot, was in contact with enemy forces.  


For the next 48 hours Charlie Company wielded the power of combined arms with the precision of a sculptor, wreaking havoc on insurgent positions, before the fighting began to ebb and flow with intense firefights followed by hours of nothing.  To the south, Alpha and Bravo companies began getting regular contact, catching some insurgents by surprise as they tried to escape to the south.


     This was the start of Marine combat operations in Garmsir.  In less than 12 hours the Marines penetrated into the enemy held territory of the Snake’s Head and seized key crossing points and terrain.  For the next 35 days, the Marines and insurgents engaged in approximately 170 engagements.   


     Operations in May were maneuver warfare in its truest form. It was a constant struggle to gain the position of advantage over the enemy while fighting to keep the battalion supply lines open.


     “The enemy consistently fought from fortified positions to include the hardened structures they evicted the civilians from,” said Maj. Todd Mahar, operations officer, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.  “They dug textbook trench lines and bunker systems and at times had mutually supporting positions.”


     On a daily basis, Marines fought the “Three Block War”, ever mindful of precautions to protect innocent civilians.  They were decisively engaged with the enemy in one area while they provided security and aid to the local populous a few kilometers away in another area, all while seizing ground and exploiting the area for weapons caches and intelligence, said Mahar.


            “In some areas, within days of the initial assault, we began to see civilians repopulating areas that we had just cleared. They wanted to work their fields and live under the security of the Marines,” said Mahar.



One Last Push


     On May 28, two Marine companies pushed from their eastern positions to the Helmand River, disrupting insurgent strongholds in between the two and essentially ending the combat phase of operations.


     One of the objectives incorporated in this push included the insurgent base known as Jugroom Fort – the British objective in an attack Jan 15 last year.


     “Much like we did on the initial assault, the insurgents were oriented to one direction, we went up around them and dropped in behind them … again,” said McLeod.


     “Within 48 hours of us pushing down on them there was a mass exodus of insurgents,” said McLeod. 


     The last sustained engagement with enemy forces was May 30, but the hard work was just beginning.



Stable, but not secure


In June soon after ISAF’s command changed hands, the MEU’s mission was re-evaluated.  Now, instead of securing routes through the district center and moving on to other missions, the MEU would remain in Garmsir to capitalize on successes achieved.


Although still clearing the area of insurgents albeit less dramatically than the past weeks, the Marines found themselves doing more of the hold and build tenets of counterinsurgency. 


             “I don’t see them as phases (the classic counterinsurgency doctrine of clear-hold-build),” said Petronzio.  “I think of them as a circle and they run continuously, we’re constantly clearing, we’re constantly holding and constantly building.”


            Marines established new strong point positions and began conducting security and census patrols through the villages in order to determine the make-up of the civilian population living in and moving back to the district – the leaders, the workers, the ones who don’t belong, etc.


            However, no one is waving the victory flag just yet and the Marines now fight complacency with the same vigor once reserved for enemy forces.


            As insurgencies go, they realize that they can’t stand toe-to-toe against a conventional fighting force and win, so they adapt.  That adaptation manifests in asymmetric attacks such as Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide bombs, attacks which are indiscriminate in what they kill. 


“Insurgents are highly adaptive organisms that must not be underestimated. They constantly change their tactics based on what they observe us doing” said Mahar.


            Being able to identify the insurgents who hide amongst the local populace is the challenging part of the asymmetric fight. In this type of warfare the population is the ‘key terrain’ and actions must focus on gaining the trust and confidence of the people so that they help identify the enemy – this takes away the enemy’s safe haven.


     “The key to holding any area is the elimination of safe havens.  Eliminating their ability to have a place where everybody can work, meet, plan and prepare unopposed is very important to their defeat. The insurgents must be denied the ability to establish these new locations but not at the expense of leaving what has already been cleared,” said Petronzio.



Eating the elephant one bite at a time


     Stability in the area leads not only to the return of people who had previously been exiled to the outskirts of the desert by insurgents, but also to a series of events marking the beginning of Garmsir’s reconstruction.


“You can be very lethal, and non-kinetic,” Petronzio said.  “An insurgency’s strength is drawn from the populace it can either coerce or convince to go with them.  If I can separate that populace for all the right reasons from that insurgency, non-kinetically, that’s still very lethal to that insurgency.” 


    On June 5th, Garmsir held its first shura in nearly three years – with not only village elders, but the district governor and chief of police in attendance.


     “The shura is an integral part of Afghan governance.  This was a major milestone for them to have this meeting since the insurgents infiltrated the area more than two years ago,” said CWO2 Rene Cote, civil affairs officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.   


      Two weeks later, Marines, in conjunction with British forces of Task Force Helmand, opened a Joint Civil Military Operations Center in the region.  Here, the citizens of Garmsir meet to discuss future plans while also collecting compensation for losses of personal property they sustained during the fighting.  The CMOC will soon have its 1000th visitor and to date has paid approximately 20.8 million Afghani to help citizens to reconstruct their compounds and replace property damaged in battle.  


     With insurgents no longer lurking in the shadows and controlling all transactions, business has returned to the area in the district center bazaar.  In less than a month more than 70 shops opened, peddling everything from produce and livestock to prepackaged items found on the shelves of most convenience stores.  On the heels of the bazaar the community members of Garmsir organized their own flea market with approximately 350 people attending to buy, sell and trade various items. 


     “It shows that people feel safe enough in their own community to come back out,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Garth, civil affairs chief, 24th MEU, ISAF.  “A feeling that is shared by more than Sunday shoppers, you see a lot more of them on the side of the road, more people out playing in the canal,” said


     One merchant, speaking to Garth, gave one reason for the bolstered confidence of the locals.


     “Before, everything was bad,” an interpreter relayed. “Since you guys got here the Taliban are not here.”


     Also returning to an operational status is the Garmsir District hospital, treating almost 100 patients a day.


     British forces, who will eventually resume full responsibility for the regions’ security with Afghan National forces, are planning to refurbish the hospital with work due to start in August, said Louise Perrotta, Garmsir Stabilization Advisor.  “This should enable the hospital to attract more staff and to provide a more comprehensive service.  The people are delighted to have any healthcare in the district.”   


    “It’s great how quickly the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has responded along with various aid organizations.  But we have to maintain a measured approach.  This place needs to be better for us having been there, but we can’t define what better is.  The citizens of Garmsir will do that and we need to listen,” said Petronzio.




Where’s my pizza

Where’s my pizza

Originally uploaded by peterparkerpiper78

Marines can find the humor in even the most austere conditions.


24th MEU flips to COIN

(HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan) –At a forward outpost in Garmsir, a line of Afghans wait to talk with Marines at the newly opened Civil Military Operations Center; they have come to voice their claims and receive cash payments for losses incurred while Marines battled  insurgents.   

Flown over a sparsely decorated tent, three flags representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan flap in the wind, showing the people that this is not just a Marine Corps or American program, this is their government responding. The cash payments are in Afghan currency – the people see the difference and welcome the Marine presence.

‘You guys are different’ the locals tell Master Gunnery Sgt. John Garth, civil affairs chief, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, ISAF.  “They know we come in with overwhelming force and might, but we also come in with compassion,” he said.

Despite deterrents, an abundance of local residents travel to the CMOC to meet with the same Marines who swept through the district and pushed the insurgents out.  Almost overnight the Marines transitioned from aggressive combat patrols to a friendlier neighborhood watch of sorts. They verify damage claims and help map the area, bringing a sense of order to the once lawless district.

Where once they traded gunfire with insurgents, now there are daily meetings with locals. Marines dole out payments for the incidental cost of waging war and in the process they encourage progress. Heading the efforts in the district is Maj. Mark McCarroll, battery commander, Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF.

            At a table, McCarroll listens as an Afghan man discusses his claim. The Marine has an intimate knowledge of the man’s damaged house; acting as the battalion’s fire support coordinator, he processed each request to fire artillery, drop bombs and launch mortars at insurgent targets; his men pulled the cord sending shells downrange that destroyed the very same property that is now being paid for – property the insurgents had commandeered from the local citizens to use as fighting positions.

            “It’s uncomfortable and strange,” McCarroll said of the unique situation.

            When the man showed a drawing of his house, McCarroll recognized it instantly. “Yep, that’s the spot,” he said to himself. “We dropped a couple of bombs on it, we did a helicopter run on it and we shot artillery on it.”

            Regardless of McCarroll’s reservations about meeting the locals, the average Afghan seems glad to sit and exchange stories with the Marines. As they sit and talk, the Marines begin to see why the homeowners are less angered by destroyed property than one would imagine.

            “We have heard a couple different stories,” McCarroll said. “The Taliban kicked me out of my house and the next day you blew it up. At least you killed the guy that kicked me out of my house,” is the way one Afghan explained it to him.

            Even with the debris, the way the locals explain it, they have more of a home now then they did just a week ago.

            “A lot of people told me they lived in the desert for 18 months.  On the edge of the desert, the adult males, at least the working males, came back to their house every day to work their fields, harvest their poppy or wheat, then they went back to the desert.  Why? Because the Taliban didn’t want them living in their houses, but they would let them come back and farm their fields every day – part of that was so the Taliban would have a food source,” said Garth

            He equates the current situation to the healing process after invasive surgery.

            “You have to get rid of the cancer first,” he said. “Hopefully it is common sense; you do what you have to do to achieve success. Success isn’t determined by what is and is not damaged. It’s a measure of; did we get rid of the Taliban? Did we make it safer for them to live their lives? Is there greater opportunity for them now than there was before? Is their house destroyed? Yeah, but is there greater opportunity for them? Absolutely.”

            Splitting time between inspecting homes while out on patrol and evaluating claims from the CMOC, Garth sees the district coming around.

            “Had we not come, their houses wouldn’t have been destroyed, but they still would have been living on the edge of the desert under Taliban control,” said Garth.  “They were forced to grow poppy and not grow wheat or vegetables which they could eat and sell at the market.  They had to travel from the desert to farm their fields; the Taliban would take what they wanted from them.  So when you look at it from that perspective they didn’t have a home to begin with. We are now giving them a chance to move back home and rebuild,” he said.  

            According to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rene Cote, civil affairs officer, 24th MEU, ISAF, $300,000 has been given to the Marines on the ground handling claims, so McCarroll and his men have the tools necessary to help this district make a full recovery.  

            “The Taliban kicked them out of their homes and the Taliban occupied the compounds and turned them into something these compounds weren’t intended to do. Our function now is to make reparations for what we did to their homes, it’s not necessarily feeling bad about it, it is doing the right thing after the Taliban are no longer there,” said McCarroll.  “These people have to live there, it’s their right.”

Since opening June 22, the CMOC, which has both Marines and British soldiers making payments, has had 340 visitors.


BLT 1/6 tightens grip on Taliban

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (May 24, 2008) – Since men first wielded weapons against one another, all fighting forces have shared one universal weakness, stop resupply lines and your enemy becomes defenseless. 


 Just days after engaging Taliban forces in an intense firefight and gaining valuable positions, the Marines of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, International Security Assistance Force, tightened their grip on insurgents with the exploitation of this weakness in mind.


On the outskirt of the District of Garmsir a platoon of armored humvees rolled into place.  To the untrained eye this rugged trail looks like a hundred others, any expanse of desert marked with tire tracks qualifies as a road in these parts, but this one is the insurgent’s lifeblood.


“They (villagers) are saying that this area is where insurgents are getting re-supplied from so we established a vehicle control point here, a route leading into the city,” said Cpl. Brian Floyd, vehicle commander, 1st Combined Arms Platoon, Weapons Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “


For days, Floyd and his Marines stop cars overflowing with people, men on motorcycles, cargo trucks, and most often tractors pulling trailers filled with people.


“We set up this entry control point to establish a presence so they (insurgents) think twice about coming in, let them know, ‘hey, we are trying to keep a lot of the stuff out of the city that’s been getting in,’ because they were able to re-supply through here the past week,” said the 22-year-old who is on his third deployment.


This is the thinking man’s part of war that isn’t exciting enough to show in movies, but just as important as the fighting – cutting off the enemy’s ability to fight. In two days of checking vehicles there was no grand cache of weapons discovered, or arrest of suspected Taliban fighters, but the fact that nothing happened actually meant the Marines were successful.


“Just having a presence, being out here, is a big thing. They’re scared; they’re scared of big trucks (armored, heavy-machine gun equipped, humvees). They won’t come around here,” explained Floyd. “We haven’t found anything really, weapons and stuff. They don’t want a direct engagement with us.”


The random nature of such checkpoints should make any more Taliban fighters wary of trying to enter the city, said 2nd Lieutenant Clint Harris, platoon commander, 1st CAP, Weapons Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.


“It just denies the enemy that avenue of approach, that ability to move in and out. For us being out there, we didn’t feel like we accomplished anything, but not by not getting into contact, we were accomplishing the mission of safeguarding that flank,” said Harris.


For the Marines stopping and checking the vehicles, it was an odd juxtaposition from their heavy-fought battle just days prior.


“It’s real weird, because that’s like the most adrenaline rush I’ve had in my whole life,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Sepanski, turret gunner, 1st CAP, Weapons Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF,  of his first combat action. “At first I was asking, ‘what are we checking for? Are we assuming they all are the enemy?’ It was weird when you first get there because you try to be nice to them, but at the same time you look at them and think, ‘are these people going to try to kill me?’”


Sepanski remembered his command’s ethos.


“One of our ethos is, ‘the Afghan people are not our enemy, the enemy lives among them,” he said.


So Sepanski cleared the thought from his mind and began interacting with travelers.


“After I got out and made contact and started talking to the people, they were normal nice people. They were willing to cooperate. If you found something in their pockets and asked to see it they would take it out and show you,” said the 27-year-old.


Harris credits his core of veteran Marines with allowing his men to transition from firefight to traffic stops without missing a beat. 


“Our platoon is pretty senior. A lot of the Marines were in Ramadi last year and a lot of the new Marines came in and got taught the Ramadi mindset of dealing with the local population,” he said.


The checkpoint displayed another asset the Marines of Weapons Company brings to the battle space.


“They are usually a forward line of reconnaissance for a battalion. So we would establish either a screen line or a guard line to a flank or in front of a battalion if it is moving. That’s where we are looking to make contact, gain intelligence, find a route, or something like today, guarding a flank. That’s a doctrinal action for us,” Harris explained.


As the checkpoints continued the heavy flow of traffic dwindled until cars were few and far between. The word was getting out; the Marines are here.


“They travel that route; the people who supply the Taliban travel that route. Those people are going to go back and say, ‘the Marines are sitting on that road, so you might not want to take that road,” Sepanski said.


For more photos visit www.flickr.com/24meu



24th MEU exploits success in Garmsir

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (May 17, 2008) – Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the British forces of Task Force Helmand launched an operation to enhance security for the citizens of the Garmsir District in Southern Helmand Province April 28.  


    By engaging with the leaders of Garmsir to determine what is required to bring stability to their district – a district which has seen little International Security Assistance Force presence in the recent past, these forces will help facilitate long-term change and improvement. 


     Garmsir has long been used as a planning, staging and logistics hub by the neo-Taliban.  Through capturing identified enemy strong points and defensive positions south of Task Force Helmand forward operating bases, Marines opened previously denied routes through the Garmsir District to the economically vital Helmand green zone, while simultaneously disrupting insurgent activities in the area. 


     “The Marines gain ground every day and secure more of the routes through the district.  The support we have received from our allied partners has contributed to our many successes thus far,” said Col Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, International Security Assistance Force


     In contrast to recent tactics, insurgents have demonstrated a persistent and concerted effort to resist the advancement of troops and hold ground.  Marines consistently encounter disorganized resistance in the form of small arms, indirect fire, and rocket propelled grenades. Despite stouter than expected resistance, Marines have succeeded in a region that was previously unsecured.    


     “The number of fighters that stood and fought is kind of surprising to me, but obviously they’re fighting for something,” Maj. Tom Clinton, executive officer, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, said.  “They’re flowing in; guys are going south and picking up arms. We have an opportunity to really clear them out, cripple them, so I think we’re exploiting the success we’re finding.”


     The effectiveness of the Marine’s approach is already evident on the ground.


     “We have seen that they are starting to have trouble reinforcing and getting arms, said Lt Col. Kent Hayes, executive officer, 24th MEU.”  “Because we’ve seen fighters coming in from other areas, the rest of Helmand, rather than from just around Garmsir, that is telling us about the success we’re having, that we are affecting and disrupting them.  We are defeating the enemy when they oppose us and, when they reinforce, we’re defeating them as well.”


     Success in the region is complex, not defined merely by defeating insurgents, but also by the manner in which you aid the people who live there.


     During lulls in the fighting, Afghan citizens began brining children to the Marines for medical treatment, including an 11 year-old boy with abdominal wounds, which his father said was inflicted by insurgents.  He, as well as one baby, have been treated and returned safely to their families.


     “I think the most telling aspect is that, an Afghan citizen of Garmsir had no qualms about bringing his wounded child to a newly established Marine position where Marines were heavily armed,” said Petronzio.  “Here is a man who has first-hand experience of life under the Taliban.  He knows that with them there is no offer of hope, no plan and no future. He knows we are here to help.”


     As the fighting stabilized in areas, Marines also were able to find and meet with village leaders.  In meetings with Afghan elders, the sun-aged, bearded men said that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”


     As for how long this operation will last or how far south the Marines will pursue insurgents, it is to be determined.


“This is the start,” said Hayes. “We started in Garmsir. As far as ending it, I will tell you that it’s not time-driven. We will leave Garmsir at the time and place of our choosing.”



As of May 17, 2008 the Marines have discovered 10 caches.  The caches contained variations of mines, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and IED making materials. They also identified and control detonated 6 IEDs and discovered and destroyed several fortified enemy positions.




Marines continue operations in Southern Helmand

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (MAY 9) – At approximately 11:30 p.m. on 28 Apr, Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO – International Security Assistance Force, launched operations in Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

      Marines continue to clear areas in the Garmsir District.  Through the capture of a series of identified enemy strong points and defensive positions south of Task Force Helmand forward operating bases, Marines continue to open the previously denied routes through Garmsir District to the economically vital Helmand green zone.   

      The insurgents have demonstrated a persistent and concerted effort to resist the advancement of troops and to hold ground in Garmsir. The Marines have consistently encountered disorganized resistance in the form of small arms, indirect fire, and rocket propelled grenades. 


Number of Marines involved:

      All of the 2,400 Marines of the 24th MEU are involved in the operation but only a portion are forward deployed to Helmand Province. 


Significant Events:   


      The Marines have discovered 9 caches.  The caches contained variations of mines, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and IED making materials.


      Marines have identified and control detonated 4 IEDs.


      The Marines have discovered and destroyed several fortified enemy positions.

      On two occasions, Afghan citizens brought children to the Marines for medical treatment.  The Marines provided medical care for and evacuated two children: one was an 11 year-old boy with abdominal wounds which his father said was inflicted by insurgents and one was a child with third degree burns from boiling water.


      Leading up to operations in Garmsir, the Marines successfully ran over 20 convoys up to distances of 100 miles.  This was done across a land riddled with mines, IEDs and hostile terrain.


Statement from the 24 MEU commander, Col Peter Petronzio:


      “The insurgents are finding that every time they engage with the Marines, they lose.  The Marines are gaining ground every day and secure more of the routes through the district.  The support we have received from our allied partners has contributed to our many successes thus far.”


     Marines are here to secure routes through the district to enable the extension of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.


     The 2,400-strong Marine unit is conducting operations in support of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  The MEU is a Theater Task Force, a position which allows the commander of ISAF to rapidly deploy the MEU wherever it’s needed to conduct full-spectrum operations from humanitarian assistance missions to combat operations.

More photos are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24thmeu/




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