HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
After operating in the Garmsir City District for more than 130 days, and liberating its people, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned responsibility for the area’s security to the British Army during a Transfer of Authority Ceremony Sept. 8.
With support from Afghanistan National Army, Security Force and Border Patrol, the British Army will again oversee security operations in this region, an area far more secure than the one they patrolled less than six months ago, a testament to the MEU’s success.
“The most important measure of success is the improved quality of life and return to normalcy for the citizens of Garmsir. The reconstruction and development and the active role of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in making that happen were all made possible by the stable environment created and maintained by the MEU,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.
Marines may be leaving, but all forces involved have worked hard to ensure the only change the people of Garmsir see in security are the uniforms of the people protecting them.
“The British forces operating in Helmand Province are extremely capable,” said Petronzio. “Our hope is that this transfer of authority is transparent to the Afghan citizens on the ground and there is no interruption to the security we were providing. This enables the TOA Ceremony, for us, to mark the shift of our main effort from the battalion to the logistics Marines and the mission of getting us and our equipment and vehicles home”
During the TOA ceremony Lt. Col. Doug M. Chalmers, commanding officer, 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, British Army awarded a bronzed tiger to Lt. Col. Tony Henderson, commanding officer, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF serving as a token of gratitude and accomplishment.
“Seeing our battalion commander accepting that [award] was the first empirical sign for our [Marines] that our mission here was finally done,” said Sgt. William O. Bee, squad leader, Alpha Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “The British have been anxious to pick up where we left off and continue to turn this area around.”
Marines were originally assigned a five to seven day mission to secure some routes through Garmsir so that a portion of the battalion landing team could move to the southern part of the district and set up a forward operating base from which they would disrupt insurgent movement.
“We were told that there were insurgents in the area just south of the British southernmost forward operating base Delhi and that they would fight us for a few days should we try to move through the area,” Petronzio said. “In order to get to the more southern location, we would need to move Marines and equipment through the insurgent controlled area.”
As Marines moved to secure the route, the insurgents did fight, but not for a “few” days as expected, they fought daily for more than a month.
“This made us and others realize that the district center of Garmsir (the area immediately south of FOB Delhi) was pretty important to the insurgents and it was not a place we just wanted to clear and then leave,” Petronzio said. “That is when the commander of ISAF decided the Marines would stay in Garmsir.”
Other factors leading to Marines remaining in the area included concern about giving the insurgents a false victory by enabling them to claim they had run ISAF forces off and protecting the Afghan citizens who had been displaced by the insurgents as they began to return to their homes.
With the mission evolving from original plans, the MEU utilized its forces to transition from the initial kinetic operations to civil military operations – the path counter insurgency operations frequently follow.
“We are not going to solve all the problems with 2,500 Marines for seven or eight months, but what we can do is eat this elephant one bite at time, and we took a big bite and we did some great things in Garmsir, and for the people there it will be a lasting, lasting success," said Petronzio.
British commanders praised the 24th MEU as Marines reintroduced the British who returned to a friendlier populace and an area less hostile.
“The Marines and this unit have really done themselves proud,” said Maj. James J. M. Driscoll, commanding officer, B Company, 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, British Army. “I can see the effort they put into the kinetic [phase] and successfully fought through. From what I can see there has been no confusion from moving from the kinetic stage to the counterinsurgency stage.”
Both units worked side-by-side for several weeks, ensuring that British troops benefitted from the Marines’ rapport in hopes that the Afghans will soon govern themselves.
“The people here have seen a lot of countries come and go – everyone from the Gurkas, the Russians and the British,” said Bee, who previously deployed to Afghanistan in 2001-02 with the 26th MEU. “Hopefully they will remember us for our professionalism and as the ones who affected permanent change.”