4 years, 5 months ago
In What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency The Captain’s Journal ridiculed the decision-making for the campaign in Helmand and found the idea incredulous that the U.S. Marines in Now Zad would be under-resourced. They need more troops, as we have pointed out, and major combat action continues against Taliban fighters. These Taliban, it must be understood, have given us the opportunity for which we pray. They have separated themselves from the population and given us unhindered access to kill them. But the population-centric counterinsurgency advocates (we consider this to be similar to a cult) lament the fact that there is no population to woe and win, and so the campaign in Now Zad sees the Marines without enough troops.
Now Zad remains so dangerous that this is the only Marine unit in Afghanistan that brings along two trauma doctors, as well as two armored vehicles used as ambulances and supplies of fresh blood.
Apart from one small stretch of paved road, the Marines patrol only behind an engineer who sweeps the ground with a detector. The men who follow scratch out a path in the sand with their foot to ensure those trailing them do not stray off course. Each carries at least one tourniquet.
“It’s a hell of ride,” said Lance Cpl. Aenoi Luangxay, a 20-year-old engineer on his first deployment. “Every step you think this could be my last,” said Aenoi, who has found six bombs in the company’s four weeks in the town.
Just after midnight recently, the medics were wakened by a familiar report: A patrol had hit an IED in town. Within five minutes, they put on their flak jackets and helmets and were in their vehicles leaving the base.
The bomb blew the legs off Cpl. Matthew Lembke as he walked to a building. Lembke, from Tualatin, Ore., was loaded onto the ambulance. On the trip to the helicopter landing zone, the medics tightened his tourniquets and gave him two units of blood along with antibiotics.
At one point, he stopped breathing. The medical team used equipment on board to pump air into his lungs.
“Our aim and intent is to give the guys the optimum chance of survival from the first minute,” said the commander of the Shock Trauma Platoon, Sean Barbabella, of Chesapeake, Va. “If it was my son or brother out there, that is what I would want.”
Lembke was in stable condition Monday at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
The men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Now Zad know where to find their enemy — to the north of town, in a maze of compounds and tunnels that back onto lush pomegranate orchards.
The Marines are garrisoned in a base that occupies the town’s former administrative center. They also have fortified observations posts on two hills. In one of them, named ANP hill after the Afghan police who presumably once had a post there, the men sleep in “hobbit holes” dug into the earth. The underground briefing room is partly held up by an aging Russian Howitzer gun.
Each day, the Marines aggressively patrol to limit the Taliban’s freedom of movement. They keep a 24-hour watch on the battlefield using high-tech surveillance equipment and are able to fire mortar rounds at insurgents spotted planting bombs or gathering in numbers.
A recent daylong battle showed the massive difference in firepower between the two sides, as well as the tenacity of the Taliban. It took place close to “Pakistani Alley,” so named because of one-time reports that fighters from across the border were deployed along the road.
The insurgents opened fire from behind high-walled compounds with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against five armored vehicles; the Marines responded with machine gunfire and frequently called in airstrikes.
Mindful of the need to engage with what few locals remain in the area, every couple of days a small group of Marines and translators leave the base and walk a mile to a village south of Now Zad where some families who fled the town now stay.
They try to convince them that the Marines are there to help, remind them that Taliban militants plant bombs that kill innocents and discreetly try to gather intelligence. Many of the locals are suspicious and worried about Taliban retribution for talking with the visitors, who are besieged by children demanding candy and notebooks.
Get the picture? The Marines make a trek on occassion to try to woo the population back into Now Zad because, well, they are there to help. The population obviously won’t come back with major combat action ongoing. The Taliban in Now Zad can be killed unhindered, i.e., without risking civilian casualties. The Marines won’t resource the campaign because there is no population there to woo.
Got it? Can anyone say stolid – dense – or stupid? Let’s be clear. The campaign sees the Marines without enough troops. The chain of command has made the decision to under-resource that part of the fight. Everyone up chain of command, who can make a difference in the resourcing of the campaign, is responsible for Cpl. Matthew Lembke having lost his legs, beginning with the President of the U.S., and going down to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CENTCOM. This includes the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
While the Marines are pressing to maintain an expeditionary force, Battalions of Marine infantry are sitting aboard Amphibious Assault Docks for nine months at a time doing nothing (as force in readiness) while a company of Marines in Now Zad loses their legs because they don’t have enough troops to kill the Taliban.
There is no excuse for this. None. It is easy enough to get the SITREPs from the front, listen to the commanders, and even read this blog (and this blog gets daily and multiple readers from the Marine network domain). They know. There is no justification – no excuse. The chain of command knows that the Marines in Now Zad are suffering and need help. That they continue to suffer without the necessary troops is totally unacceptable, and The Captain’s Journal is outraged over the situation in Now Zad. The situation is deserving of deep indignation and anger.
May God grant grace and kind providence to Cpl. Matthew Lembke. He will be in our prayers.