SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand Province, Afghanistan --
Afghan soldiers from the Afghan National Army 4th Tolai, 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps and Marines from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, met with villagers and searched for insurgent assets in Reygion and De Kahkesh Karez during Operation Southern Disrupt, here, recently.
Over the past two years, Sangin has evolved from a hotbed of insurgency, littered with improvised explosive devices, to a relatively calmer district with minimal intimidation.
“With all the success that we’ve had here inside Sangin, you don’t see the enemy push all the way in anymore,” said 1st Lt. Matt T. Perry, 2nd Platoon commander from Slidell, La.
As the ANA and Marines increased their presence in Sangin since 2010, the insurgents moved to the fringe of these villages to resupply, plan operations, and construct IEDs, added Perry.
“Getting out there takes away enemy freedom of movement, denies the enemy safe haven and sanctuary and, with luck, will offer the interdiction of enemy cache locations,” said Capt. David T. Russell, Weapons Co. commander.
During the two-day operation, partnered forces took census information, assessed public support, and searched for insurgent activity.
Weapons Co. and 4th Tolai, based out of Wishtan and Chakaw, departed at night and braved freezing temperatures to clear the route of explosives and travel to their staging area.
“Afghans were in the lead the entire way,” added Russell, a 31-year-old native of San Antonio. “The company commander was on top of the hill commanding and controlling his troops as they moved through the village below.”
The partnered operation used a minimal number of Marines, and the Afghans conducted all searches, movements, and counter IED.
A variety of specialists and teams supported the company during the operation, enabling the company to deal with the diverse scenarios common in counterinsurgency operations.
The Combined Anti-Armor Team Platoon and Mobile Section arrived early to cordon the village, which ensured nobody could come in and out of the area. This enabled the teams to hit all of their objective areas without allowing insurgents or materials to escape.
Late in the afternoon, one squad discovered an unoccupied compound filled with a sizeable cache of materials—enough to produce several IEDs. The squad called the explosive ordnance disposal team, led by Sgt. Reggie J. Lovato, Weapons Co. combat engineer, a 27-year-old native of Santo Domingo Pueblo, N.M., who neutralized the threat compound.
As the partnered forces maneuvered through the area, each route was cleared by minesweepers, who weaved unpredictable paths to each objective to ensure minimal exposure. Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Rodriguez, 2nd Platoon point man, swept for IEDs for one squad.
Rodriguez, a 19-year-old, San Jose, Calif. native, and 2010 graduate of Willow Glen High School, has led more than 120 patrols in his five months in Sangin, and his squad has never been hit by an IED, according to Russell. Rodriguez has identified three IEDs: one by sight and two using his metal detector.
In addition, Female Engagement Team 6 supported the squad, speaking with local women. Afghan culture strongly discourages interaction between male and female Afghans who are not related.
The FET gathered information from the women in the village, including their names, parents, and tribes, said Sgt. Jessica Lugo, FET 6 leader, a native of San Pedro, Calif. The data helps the commander understand the people living in the local area.
Positive feedback from the community is a gauge of atmospherics in the area, or the receptiveness of the population to the ANA and the national government.
At one compound, a mother blurted out that she hates the insurgents, and since the ANA began patrolling in Sangin, the insurgents have fled the area. Another woman moved to Reygion because it was a safer area to live than her hometown.
By using a broad range of capabilities, the ANA and Marines discovered enemy routes and presence in the area, said Russell.
The partnered forces came away with valuable information and fostered a positive relationship with the local residents, an essential aspect of counterinsurgency. By extending their presence to the fringe of this area, the ANA and Marine forces supported the legitimacy of the national government and continued to clear the region of insurgents.
“What we hope to achieve is continue to push the insurgents out,” said Perry, a 2008 graduate of Louisiana State University. “so Sangin can stand up based on the national government.”
Editor’s Note: The 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines are currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6, which is part of Task Force Leatherneck. Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.