HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
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."
To date, 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.