Marines Draw Out Taliban in Helmand Province
By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Special to American Forces Press Service
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 22, 2010 Stepping gingerly over rocks and uneven ground, Marines from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and the Afghan National Army soldiers attached to them, patrolled to the north of Observation Post Huskars here Jan. 18.
Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, open fire on enemy insurgents taking cover in an abandoned compound during a firefight in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Jan. 18, 2010. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The patrol stalked through a small, barren crop, just large enough to sustain the inhabitants of a nearby compound, which now lay abandoned. As the column made its way past homes and farms, there was a rising sense that something was amiss; there wasn't a villager in sight.
Passing through a small archway in a mud wall and out across an open plateau, the Marines' suspicions were realized as several flat and hollow cracks rang out. Dust kicked up around ankles, and clumps of dirt flew from the walls as bullets struck all around the patrol. Sprinting to get behind cover to return fire, the Marines had achieved their objective. They had located the Taliban.
For the next five hours, Marines and Afghan soldiers traded fire with insurgents. The sun had set by the time the patrol withdrew, and they had uncovered a cache of about 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate, which is a prime ingredient in homemade explosives and against Afghan law to own. One suspect was detained, several insurgents were wounded or killed, and there were no Afghan army or Marine casualties.
"The original goal of the patrol was to do [census operations] and see who was living in the buildings," explained Marine Corps 1st Lt. Shaun Miller, the company’s executive officer. "We wanted to get the lay of the land and interact with local leaders and elders."
Although the initial plan was to interact with villagers in the north, each time the Marines pushed beyond the walls of Observation Post Huskars, they took fire from insurgents.
"Every time we've gone out on patrol we've gotten into firefights," said Miller, who paused for a moment to speak over a radio to a Marine on patrol who had reported seeing a rocket-propelled grenade gunner. "We've been here for five days and have launched over 20 patrols, and as soon as we go more than one mile outside of the wire, we encounter heavy enemy resistance. It's like [the Taliban] are drawn to us."
The increase in patrols and subsequent engagements with insurgents serves to buffer friendly villages to the south of Observation Post Huskars from the Taliban north of the Marines' position.
"To the north, the majority of the compounds are abandoned and are being used by insurgents," explained Miller. "However, in the south, villagers have asked for our help, [and have] even led us to where improvised explosive devices were planted so that we could destroy them."
As the light began to fade and the Marines switched to night vision, infrequent tracer rounds and pop shots would clip and skim over the compound where the patrol had taken refuge. Meanwhile, they waited for explosive ordinance disposal Marines to arrive and destroy the homemade explosive ingredients found earlier in the day.
With the events of the day behind them and the bomb ingredients destroyed, the patrol set off toward its camp to catch a few hours of rest before going out again the following morning.
(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James W. Clark serves with the 1st Marine Division’s Regimental Combat Team 7 public affairs office.)