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    What’s next in Afghanistan
    Deploying Marines should expect more
    winter combat as they work to maintain stability

    By Dan Lamothe
    t hasn’t been easy for 2nd Bat­talion, 7th Marines.
    Deployed to Afghanistan since March, the battalion has fought off ambushes in lawless areas of Afghan wilderness, trav­eled bomb-laden roads and experi­enced more casualties than any other unit in the Corps this year.
    As 2/7’s deployment winds down, however, Marine officials say the unit has made progress in bring­ing stability to eight districts in Helmand and Farah provinces, two of volatile southern Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas. It has trained more than 800 Afghan police officers and launched a variety of outreach ef­forts, planning schools, roads and irrigation systems.
    “As the regions across which 2/7 operated differed vastly, there is no solution or project which will work across the board,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hall, 2/7’s comman­der. “The most important thing we could do was listen to what the people needed and wanted.” With a unit labeled Special Pur­pose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Afghanistan ready to take over much of what 2/7 handled during the past eight months, the question is simple: What exactly is the Corps’ future in Afghanistan?
    Managing violence
    When the Pentagon announced in January that the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2/7 would deploy to Afghanistan, their mis­sions were described differently. The MEU’s 2,200 members were sent for counterinsurgency, offi­cials said, while the 1,000-strong battalion was expected to train new members of the Afghan Na­tional Police.
    Things haven’t been that simple. Deployed in part to Helmand districts near the MEU’s area of operations, 2/7 has seen at least 16 Marines and a Navy corpsman killed in action between June and November. By contrast, the De­fense Department said four Marines with the MEU were killed during its deployment, which included launching an as­sault in April in Garmser district, a Taliban stronghold bursting with opium poppy fields.
    Parts of the MEU began cycling out of Afghanistan and heading home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., throughout late October and early November, and 2/7 is due back at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., some time in No­vember. Their replacements will include units from North Caroli­na, California and Hawaii.
    Marine officials said the train­ing mission isn’t simply a matter of mentoring — it also includes some counterinsurgency.
    Hall said that in three districts designated the most dangerous, 2/7 used In-District Reform, a pro­gram in which Marines patrol the region and provide security while police recruits attend an eight­week boot-camp-style training program.
    In the other five districts, the battalion used the Focused Dis­trict Development program, with Marines training police recruits while a smaller, more highly trained Afghan police force — the Afghan National Civil Order Po­lice — handled regional security.
    The mission spread 2/7’s Marines over 10,000 square miles, Hall said, leaving some platoons to fight off ambushes more than eight hours away from the battal­ion’s headquarters at Camp Bas­tion, a British base in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
    In one case described by Marine officials, about 150 Taliban at­tacked a platoon of about 65 Marines, leading to intense fight­ing in a location where the only fire support Marines had was air­craft above them. Two Marines were wounded after a rocket-pro­pelled grenade hit the platoon’s command operations center, but no casualties were sustained.
    “Certainly the tyranny of dis­tance is problematic at times, but nothing insurmountable,” Hall said. “Aviation is an invaluable asset here.” With the next group of Marines headed to Afghanistan slated to occupy many of the same districts, that’s likely to remain the case.
    Planning for the future
    When the 24th MEU and 2/7 ar­rived in Afghanistan, they were considered separate entities. The MEU operated under the com­mander of the International Secu­rity Assistance Force, headed by Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, and 2/7 fell under Combined Secu­rity Transition Command­Afghanistan and Army Maj. Gen. Robert Cone.
    In the days leading up to the end of their deployments, however, 2/7 and the MEU aligned to form an “interim SPMAGTF,” said Maj. Kelly Frushour, a Marine spokes­woman in Afghanistan. Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, the MEU’s ground com­bat element, returned to Lejeune beginning Oct. 18, but some of the MEU’s other elements remained behind, and will be relieved by the new Special Purpose MAGTF when it arrives.
    Second Battalion, 7th Marines, initially handled operations in the Helmand districts of Sangin, Gereskh, Musa Qaleh and Now Zad, and the Farah districts of De­laram, Golestan, Bakwa and Bala Baluk, Frushour said. ISAF and Afghan forces have since taken over Sangin, Gereskh and Bala Baluk, but the next Marine units in Afghanistan will continue to handle the other five districts, op­erating out of Camp Bastion.
    Marine units also will continue to serve on embedded training teams in eastern Afghanistan, working with the Afghan National Army as part of a separate mission.
    The Special Purpose MAGTF ar­rives as winter bears down on Afghanistan. Typically, Taliban at­tacks recede as temperatures dip, but the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan said Oct. 14 that won’t happen this winter because insur­gent influence has spread from the mountains to areas around Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
    Army Gen. David Petraeus, the new head of Central Command, said in October that U.S. forces are planning for more fighting this winter because officials discovered that the Taliban found safe haven last winter inside Afghanistan. This time, the U.S. wants to be more aggressive in finding insur­gents before they can regroup.
    When the new MAGTF takes over, Hall said, he will urge its Marines to continue focusing not only on the police training, but also on ordinary people living in the districts.
    “We have to have the willing ac­ceptance of the people, so [they] accept [the police] and abide by that rule of law,” Hall said. “So, when you bring them in and show them that these are not the old Taliban coming in to exact illegal fines or taxes from them or run drugs and force them to give ... food and water so they can contin­ue in their illegal activities.” Ë

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

  • #2
    Semper Fi 2/7...

    I was talking to one of my soldiers and said they had spent time near Iran and that area of Afghanistan.

    They are not kidding about the lawlessness of that country. The only law is terrorize and intimidate the locals. Seen nothing but death and destruction there.
    R.I.P. my Bros from the 1st MAR DIV, 3rd MAR DIV, 25th I.D., 10th MTN DIV, V Corps, 170th IBCT who gave their lives in the Cold War, Marines we lost in Korea during Team Spirit '89 & Okinawa '89- bodies never recovered, Panama, 1st Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq...


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