5 years, 12 months ago
After sitting idle mired in NATO bureaucratic red tape for six weeks, the U.S. Marines have finally been deployed into the Helmand Province where they have targeted a Taliban stronghold town called Garmser.
US Marines pushed into a stronghold of extremist Taliban resistance in southernmost Afghanistan Tuesday in their first major operation since deploying to Afghanistan last month …
Garmser in southern Helmand is an area of difficult desert terrain that extends down to the Pakistan border across which Taliban reinforcements and weapons are said to arrive to enter a growing insurgency.
Soldiers with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, were airlifted into forward bases in the area last week or moved in on convoys, ISAF said.
From there they launched the operation named Azada Wosa, which means Be Free in the Pashtu language of southern and eastern Afghanistan …
Military officials say Helmand is a nest of hardcore Taliban fighters supported by international Islamic “jihadists” and the centre of Afghanistan’s booming opium and heroin trade.
The Marines are entering an area lush with opium poppies. The Marines don’t want to antagonize the local population by joining U.S.-backed efforts to destroy the crop. “We’re not coming to eradicate poppy,” Clinton says. “We’re coming to clear the Taliban.”
The town of Garmser has been under the control of Taliban fighters who have been expecting a fight for some time.
The Taliban presence in Garmser has been a running sore for British forces for the past year, but British commanders have not previously had the combat forces available to push the Taliban out.
The Taliban claims to have several hundred fighters in the area, with prepared bunkers and tunnel complexes that have proved resistant to frequent Western aerial bombing raids.
The Telegraph was able to interview two Taliban commanders operating in the Garmserarea last month, who said they expected to resist any assault by Western forces.
“It will be really difficult for the British,” said Mullah Ghafour, not his real name. “We have 20 kilometres depth of defences, with all kinds of mines. They have tried before to push us back. In Garmser it is a face to face fight.”
But the Taliban are facing the U.S. Marines, many of whom are veterans of the Anbar Province. Being dug in is not helping the Taliban, who lost their command center today.
In one short engagement this morning, the Marines took rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, and a Marine scout helicopter killed two insurgents with rockets and .50-cal machine gun fire.
The battle for the Taliban command center raged all day today, said Lt. Anthony Henderson, who commands the 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment, the core infantry unit of the 24th MEU.
Henderson said the Marines gradually pushed the Taliban back into a corner of the facility and then called in air strikes by Cobra attack helicopters with Hellfire missiles.
The Taliban are learning what General George Patton knew years ago, namely that fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. Inch by inch, room by room, the Marines are prepared to complete the battle, both kinetic operations and reconstruction of the area.
The Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of the three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.
“The feeling in general is optimistic, excited,” said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. “They’ve been training for this deployment the last nine months. We’ve got veteran leaders.”
Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.
Moder said that experience would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan. “These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it’s not just kinetic (fighting) but it’s reconstruction and economic development.”
But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and homemade bombs and “anybody that wants to fight us.”
One Marine in Charlie Company, Cpl. Matt Gregorio, 26, from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines had been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was “anxious, excited.”
“We’ve been waiting a while to get this going,” he said.
A while indeed. Six weeks mired in red tape. But progress has started, and the Taliban in this AO will surrender or die.
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