COMBAT OUTPOST RANKEL, Afghanistan -- The CH-53 began a slow, downward loop, descending to a muddy field when the word was passed.
“Hot LZ!” announced the pilot, denoting the presence of enemy fighters in his landing zone.
With smiles on their faces and weapons loaded, the Marines of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment commenced Operation Godfather, a three-day clearing operation in Durzay, Jan. 14.
Since early 2009, Marines from Regimental Combat Teams 7 and 1 have steadily pushed the Taliban south, driving them out of small villages and bazaars they had been using to stage attacks and consolidate supplies for their campaign of fear and intimidation.
With reports of over 30 suspected enemy insurgents, Durzay, which is located at the southern tip of Helmand Province, was one of the last Taliban safe havens in the area.
The purpose of Operation Godfather was to push the Taliban out of the remaining enclave, limiting their freedom of movement and removing them from the population center.
The expectant Marines knew of the enemy and IED threats awaiting them.
“During the clear, we had numerous IED cache finds and opium cache seizures,” said First Lt. Shannon Ashley, a platoon commander with Echo Company, 2/1.
Within the first hour on the ground, Ashley’s platoon alone found four IEDs and an opium cache.
Durzay, which is vast and relatively flat with clusters of compounds spread throughout, provides visibility from a great distance. Here, the Taliban uses remotely-controlled IEDs, which can be triggered by insurgents observing from afar.
“Terrain dictates the type of IEDs emplaced by the enemy,” said Gunnery Sgt. Erik Swanson, 1st Explosive Ordnance Detachment.
Swanson added that the findings from Durzay were no different from the average findings in Echo Company’s area of operation. Echo has been 2/1’s most active company in uncovering IEDs, accounting for more than 90 percent of the battalion’s finds.
Ashley’s platoon cleared from the Durzay bazaar to Saidon, hiking approximately a kilometer across muddy farmland. Along the way, they gathered census data of each compound and information on other potential IED threats.
“[Census data] allows us to know who we’re talking to and gives us face-time with the locals,” said Ashley.
According to Ashley, the face-time will payoff, eventually leading to a trusting relationship between coalition forces and the local nationals. Not to mention, the correct topics will get addressed when 2/1 conducts shuras with the locals in the near future, he said.
The operation in Durzay, considered the last real village in Central Helmand province before the Pakistan border, leaves the Taliban with few places to go in South-Central Helmand.
With spring a few months away, coalition forces hope to consolidate their gains. The spring, historically a time of renewed insurgent activity in Afghanistan, will be the true measure of success for Afghan National Army soldiers and Marines in the area.