COMBAT OUTPOST SHABU, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
After Marines patrolled through the hot Afghan desert, jumping over canals and traversing cropped fields possibly laden with improvised explosive devices, they finally arrived at the remote village of Shabu.
Marines with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion have been making this journey for five months.
“Our mission is to win the civilian populace from the Taliban,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Tipton, a rifleman with 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “We do this by constantly talking to them every day, asking them how we can help.”
Twice a day, the Marines patrol several miles to get to Shabu and accomplish this mission.
“We try to go to the village as often as possible so we can keep a presence in the area,” said Tipton, from Napa, Calif. “The people see us a lot and so their trust in us has improved greatly since we arrived.”
Having the trust of the locals has paid great dividends for the Marines. It has helped them gather invaluable intelligence on insurgent activity in the area.
“The locals are very cooperative with us and always tell us what’s going on in their village,” Tipton said. “They like telling us their problems because they know we will try to find a solution for them.”
As a result of shuras, or meeting with village elders, the Marines of 1st LAR Bn. recently found the largest drug cache in their area, accounting for approximately 60 kilos of processed drugs.
“We’ve also had great success clearing out the village of caches of weapons and IED’s for the last couple of months,” Tipton added.
The Marines’ strong presence in the area make the people feel safer and more secure, explained Lance Cpl. Kyle Bachman, a mortarman with Weapons Platoon, Company B, 1st LAR Bn.
“We sincerely ask the people how their day has been, or if they have any plans,” said Bachman, from Virginia, Minn. “We also ask them if they like having us around and they always say they’re thankful for what we do.”
Outside the village, Marines stop at random roads and set up vehicle check points to search for drugs or weapons. The Marines conduct night patrols to make sure that the people are safe and to keep the Taliban out of the village.
“We always have to keep the security tight and keep our eyes constantly in our area of operations,” said Tipton, “because if the Taliban start doing whatever they want then we lose everything we have accomplished.”