Read this. I know it’s long, just read it…
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Posted By babatim On November 14, 2010 @ 12:44 pm In Afghanistan
After only 90 days of fighting to root out the Taliban of a place they have owned for over a decade, Gen McChrystal called Marjah a bleeding ulcer . That was an unbelievably stupid assessment given the nature of the enemy, the rules of engagement placed on the Marines by the General, and the paltry amount of time the Marines had invested in the fight. Marjah is still being called “the most dangerous place in Afghanistan”  by embedded media which is, in my professional opinion, not true. I’ve just returned from a three day trip into Marjah after being lucky enough to catch a ride with the CO of Regimental Combat Team 1, Col Dave Furness who was taking a road trip to visit his battalions in the field. There is too much information from that trip to post in one sitting so the first dispatch from the trip will cover Marjah. The other things I saw, like Senators McCain, Lieberman, Graham and Gillibrand in the Nawa District Center will have to wait.
The CO of 2/6, LtCol Kyle Ellison with his boss Col Dave Furness talking to local shop owners in the Marjah Bazaar during his Friday morning walk about. Note the lack of body armor and helmets
Counterinsurgency takes a lot of two things, boots on the ground and time. The Marines have been at this task for nine months and they are winning. But it is not easy, it is not cheap in the only currency we care about which is the blood of fellow Marines. The only persistent bitching I heard from Marine commanders concerned their ability to rapidly employ the most potent tool in their arsenal – money. They feel if they are the ones doing the clearing they should be doing the holding too and able to directly finance the projects they nominate. I have a lot to say about that myself but being in the reconstruction business I’m going to (this may be a first) shut up and let that sleeping dog lie for now. The best way to relate the current state of play in Marjah is with lots of pictures and a little bit of story telling.
The first stop in Marjah was COP Shanfield which is named after one of the squad leaders from 2nd platoon Echo 2/6 who was killed in action nearby. This is the COC which monitors the squad sized patrols that are pushed out of this small base 24/7.
We entered Marjah on the afternoon of 11 November heading directly to one of the dozens of platoon combat outposts (COP’s) which dot the Marjah area. We were heading for an important ceremony but not one we would wish on anyone else. As I have said many times before war means fighting and fighting means killing. Unfortunately the killing part of warfare cuts both ways and when the Americans lose a Marine his fellow Marines host a memorial service. This is a painful yet important ritual designed to not just to honor the dead but also assist the living in dealing with the loss of comrades they knew intimately and loved deeply. That is the dynamic of infantry – you know your fellow Marine better than anyone else in the world knows him You may not always like every member of your platoon but you love all of them. And there is not doubt in the mind of an infantry Marine that the men he is with will instantly and willingly take suicidal risks to help him if he is in trouble. Memorials are tough and this one was especially tough for the very tight 2nd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion 6th Marines because they were saying goodbye to their leader.
1stLt James R. Zimmerman of Aroostock, Maine was killed in action on the 2nd of November 2010. He is survived by his parents and his wife Lynel.
The universal sign of a tight platoon is how the junior Marines feel about their leader. Here a young corporal in a filthy uniform with a field haircut gathers himself to deliver a tremendous tribute to his former boss. It was an obvious emotional strain for him which is, of course, the norm for these services but it said a lot about just how good Lt Zimmerman was at leading Marines
The firing detail
There is nothing easy about being an infantryman in combat
This was my first visit to a Marine COP and I wished it had been for another purpose. Marjah is rapidly healing but that doesn’t mean the Talbian has given up and slinked off to some other area in the Helmand. Marjah was place where they all ran after getting their asses kicked out of every significant town from Naw Zad in the north to Khanishin in the south and there is very little maneuver room left for the Taliban in Helmand Province.
The 2nd Battalion 6th Marines is currently responsible for the southern, central and some of the northern portions of Marjah which is actually a series of villages organized around a gigantic grid of canals which were built by US AID back in the 60’s. They are expanding their control block by block by spreading their Marines out into platoon and squad size outposts from which Marines foot patrol constantly. The villains still offer battle but only on their terms which means they will fire on a patrol only when they have set up IED’s between their positions and the Marines. When the Marines came back to Afghanistan in 2008 the Taliban had forgotten that they were not like other infantry. The Marines maneuver when fired upon closing with and destroying those stupid enough to take them on. After getting mauled time and again the Taliban learned to use small arms fire to augment IED blasts in an attempt to lure aggressive Marines into mine fields full of more improvised explosive devices. Now the Marines maneuver to fix and then swarm with other units coming in from a different direction or with precision fire from drones. To facilitate this they establish multiple small postions – partrol from them constantly and then push out to establish more small bases once the area they are working comes under their control.
Every Friday the 2/6 CO goes for a tour of the central bazaar. When he started he could make it from his outpost to the ANP post on the far side in 20 minutes. These days he can't make it that far due to the crowds of Afghans who want to stop and tell him two things; 1. they appreciate the Marines and what they have done and 2. Please don't leave and let the Taliban come back.
The CO has not gotten far when more residents stop to chat
The crowds continue to grow and note how relaxed everyone is in a bazaar where this past summer we were dropping 2000 pound JDAMs
The Marines took the funds from the "Interim Security for Critical Infrastructure" and stood up armed neighborhood watch groups organized by blocks. The ISCI program was apparently designed to allow commanders to hire local "security contractors" for guarding critical infrastructure which is stupid. The Marines view the people as the most "critical infrastructre" they have in their AO so they spend those program funds on armed security of the people by the people. On blocks with ISCI guards ( identified by the arm bands) there are no Taliban. As this car load was heading backing home they got a stern reminder from LtCol Ellison "remember fellas if you are not on your block the weapons stay in the cars right?"
On the way back to base LtCol Ellison stops to present a battalion coin to an Afghan policeman telling him he earned it by always being at his post with his weapon and controlling his intersection like a professional which the Marines find "motivating". This is counterinsurgency 101 in action where small acts of recognition provide huge amounts of motivation
After the bazaar tour it was time for another memorial this one for Staff Sergeant Jordan B Emrick, an EOD technician who gave his full measure while working with a platoon patrol. The Platoon commander who was on point thought he saw something in the ground and SSGT Emrick stepped up to assess what the Lt had spotted. It was a command detonated mine which detonated as SSGT Emrick squatted to get a good look at it.
The afternoon started with a "strong man" show at the local school. Both Inchon 6 and Spartan 6 were invited by the District Governor. In this photo the Sergeants Major from RCT 1 and 2/6 are getting the kids pumped up before the big show.
Waiting for the Parwan performance
The ANP arrive with the District Governor
The show starts with forms from both father and son
Then some father and son brick breaking on a bed on nails
More bed of nails work
The show concluded with the classic "run over the Parwan with a tractor load of police" trick
That evening we were invited to a dinner in the newly opened restaurant by the District Governor so we headed downtown again on foot.
Some of the elders from blocks which have recently been cleared also attened the meal - they were there to ask for permission to stand up ISCI teams in their blocks which comes from the District Governors office
The Marine leaders make it a point to travel into Marjah "slick" which means without body armor and helmets as a show of confidence in local security conditions. But they're not stupid and a fully armed security detail travels with them. A dinner like this attracts things like suicide bombers but there is no way any unknown person would get through the layers of security and into the restaurant. They certainly would have never gotten past these two devil dogs.
Marjah is no longer the most dangerous place in Afghanistan. That distinction belongs to Sangin where Col Paul Kennedy is leading the 2nd Regimental Combat Team is a very stiff fight to secure the population of that area. The Marines way of conducting the counterinsurgency fight has caused some friction with our allies  who think they are too aggressive. They are, without question, the most aggressive fighters in Afghanistan but they are also proving to be the most adept at holding the ground they have cleared. The battalion which proceeded 2/6 in downtown Marjah, the 1st Battalion of the 6th Marines had a 90/10 IED find rate. Only 10% of the IED’s targeting them detonated and the others were either detected by the Marines or (in a vast majority of the time) were pointed out to the Marines by the local population.
Colonel Furness told me there was a Corporal in 3/1 (deployed in the South around Khanishin) who had an uncanny ability to spot IED’s. His squad wanted him on point every day. 49 times there were IED’s placed to target them and 49 times this Corporal found them first. Know what you get when you find mines targeting your squad 49 times in a row? Probably a lot of love and respect from your fellow Marines but you don’t get a combat action ribbon because when you find the mines every time the villains don’t shoot. Mine blasts are used as the signal to attack with small arms and the Taliban are not known for their ability to contingency plan so when the mine doesn’t blow they slink off. Imagine that; seven months of constant patrols in a kinetic environment but because you are so good at spotting mines you don’t get to wear the coveted combat action ribbon. Col Furness isn’t a big fan of that order but it is an order so as 3/1 was leaving he showed up at a company formation and meritoriously promoted the kid to Sergeant. ”It was the least I could do – the kid deserved a hell of lot more… I wish I had 100 more just like him.”
Here is another story you don’t hear every day. Today one of the squad patrols from 2/6 was stopped by a local man who wanted to turn in his son for being Taliban. He had told the kid over and over he did not want him fighting for the Taliban who he believes to be immoral and unislamic. The father and one of his other sons went to the district center and to have their statements video tapped and his son is now in custody.
Counterinsurgency takes time and it is not cheap for the men and women doing the fighting. The question is not if we can prevail but will we be allowed to do what it takes to prevail and that question can only be answered by our Commander in Chief. The President can only “vote present” on Afghanistan for so long. He needs to tell the American people and our allies what we are trying to accomplish in order to define an endstate. The “July 2011 draw down” of forces is not a plan or an endstate or even a good idea. It is an abdication of leadership for a meaningless date which is predicated on nothing more than political calculation. Our president is rumored to be a very smart man. It is time for him to prove it.
Article printed from Free Range International: http://freerangeinternational.com/blog
URL to article: http://freerangeinternational.com/blog/?p=3734
URLs in this post:
 Marjah a bleeding ulcer: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/05/24/94740/mcchrystal-calls-marjah-a-bleeding.html
 the most dangerous place in Afghanistan”: http://www.katu.com/news/local/107051228.html
 some friction with our allies: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090306195.html
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