HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Since men first wielded weapons against one another, all fighting forces have shared one universal weakness: the need for resupply.
Just days after engaging Taliban forces 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 by exploiting this weakness.
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 Lt. 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.