Life in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

A recent report by Mal James bears complete reiteration here.

At all bases the “Marines operate in there” is an expression they use in “River City” to describe what happens when a Marine is killed or injured. All contact with the outside world ceases to be available all phone lines and Internet connections are cut until the next of kin are notified.

At Forward Operating Base in Now Zad, it is almost the norm, rather than the exception. Life continues for the Marines, another day passes and it is one day closer to going home. The majority of the Marines I talked with “going home,” meant safe and still intact, whilst they all grieve for fallen comrades there is also an acceptance that what they do entails risk.

Whilst they may be Rambo one minute, the next minute reflection replaces reality. When we arrived at Now Zad, 2/3 Marines Golf Company had already lost 2 Marines and a further 7 had been wounded in action, including 3 double amputations. All had been killed or injured as a result of IED’s. Any foot patrol was forbidden as the risk was to high to quote Captain Martin of Golf Company, “We will not walk in the area”.

Now Zad is a ghost town, not a soul lives there, or has done for the past couple of years, where once approx 15,000 Afghans once lived, not a soul is there. The British and Estonians have held ground there and the Marines are now on their third rotation there. With a casual ease Marines would point to a spot 100 yards away and say there is a high possibility that the Taliban are there now and watching us. What separates the two is often just a minefield of IED’s. They are so randomly set and spread out that even the Taliban to a degree now will not enter certain areas.

And so in temperatures that destroy any remaining part of your soul, a stand off exists in Now Zad. As if it was the 1st World War, a no mans land of death separates the adversaries. The only thing that moves between the two sides apart from bullets, mortars and rockets are the wasps. For some reason Now Zad has a plague of them. Any water or liquid and you are surrounded by them, and for someone like me who has a certified terror of bee’s let alone wasps, this was no happy place.

Showers and the basic laundry facility was closed between 11am and 2 pm, not to conserve water but to minimize wasp attacks. Hesco barriers and concrete walls may stop Taliban attacks but not wasps.

Unlike large bases back at Leatherneck and Bastion or even in the capital Kabul, FOB Now Zad has no luxuries, most rooms are plywood boxes with no air conditioning, and the temperature inside the rooms can easily reach 42 degrees Celsius close to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no dining facilty for meals apart from some netting on poles, two meals a day are served out of trays, miss the meal time and it is MRE’s. I saw the trays of food just lying around in the dust like discarded waste next to a dumpster, no doubt tomorrows meal.

Water is measured in degrees of bath water, and tepid is something you actually crave. There were fridges around, but they were closely guarded secrets and rarely if ever would anyone ever offer Greg and I a cold drink, they were just too precious, I did not begrudge them this as it made me realize how hard it actually is for them. And how pathetically easy Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen have it at the bigger bases, where 24 hour meals are available and signs on the fridges ask you to limit yourself to two cold cans of soda a meal, but no one ever counts.

And yet not one Marine at FOB Now Zad wanted to be anywhere else but there, at the frontline in the fight against the Taliban. In adversity they become a true “Band of Brothers”, and to be honest you never hear a word of despair or frustration from them.

The only thing they do not like is “River City” because it means one of there own has fallen.

Regular readers know how I have harped on Now Zad, the lack of troops, and the lunacy of having Marines deployed there with more trauma doctors than regularly supplied with Marines because of the risk of IEDs.  More troops are being deployed to the Now Zad district, but we were still skeptical that the troops were going directly to battle the Taliban surrounding the city of Now Zad and currently engaging the Marines.

We were right, and the Marines still live in hobbit holes, exist in far worse conditions than their brethren at the larger bases, and fight the enemy to a standoff in a city deserted because of Taliban violence.  It is a lack of strategic vision, this notion of deploying entire Battalions of Marine infantry aboard Amphibious Assault Docks waiting to be used as force in readiness, when readiness never comes because of policy decisions, Marines are losing their legs in Now Zad, and the Taliban have done us the favor of separating themselves from the population where we can kill them unimpeded and without causing civilian casualties.  We still aren’t taking the campaign seriously.

Prior: Now Zad category

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  • MarkA

    Herschel – I’m sorry if you’ve covered this before, but I have a probably naive question. If no civilians reside in Now Zad, why don’t we destroy the village with air strikes? Marine follow-up action and then rebuilding could then commence. What’s wrong with this scenario?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Hi Mark.

    Yea, the reasons for this are buried back in much earlier posts. I have been following Now Zad for quite some time. The Taliban use it as an R&R area, the 30,000 or so residents (estimates vary widely) have vacated the town, and the Taliban and Marines have fought each other to a standoff.

    We can’t simply bomb it to pieces, because the desire is for the residents to re-populate the town again. It wouldn’t be good to be seen as bombing a town to pieces when the folks actually want to go home.

    But taking Now Zad will require more troops, and since the Corps is committed to this notion of force in readiness, we haven’t deployed enough there. There are also many troops aboard both Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton now. They are building barracks as fast as they can in Camp Lejeune and Marines almost don’t have a place to stay.

    Marines are coming home from Anbar, and not being deployed to Afghanistan quickly enough because of … what? Policy decisions by the administration? Pressure by the Commandant of the Marine Corps to stock their Amphibious Assault Docks with infantry and sit out in the Persian Gulf doing nothing? What? Can anyone give me anything even approaching a good reason to leave a small force of Marines in Now Zad without reinforcement?

  • MarkA

    Herschel –

    Thanks for the answer. The photos I’ve seen of Now Zad remind me of Fallujah or Ramadi or worse; not much for the 30K residents to come home to. I appreciate the re-population objective. But maybe decimation of al-Club-Med followed quickly by reconstruction by an NGO could be a better strategy. Maybe the negative media resulting from its decimation (again, prior to reconstruction) is highly unwanted by some.

    I have serious reservations about Gates, Jones & McChrystal; I have no informed opinion on Conway. Where is Petraeus? Where is our strategy? I can only imagine how disheartening it must be for Afghan actives and veterans to hear our CIC state that victory is not necessarily the goal in Afghanistan. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Are we experiencing trickle-down incertitude, tentativeness and equivocation? Major reinforcements in Now Zad would be a good first step (if we don’t want to level it). Where else is this going on there?

    I’m more concerned about Afghanistan now than I was about Iraq a year and a half ago. Your posts (and others’) regarding Now Zad, the ANA & ANP, etc. clearly illustrate why these concerns are warranted.

    God bless our Marines and Soldiers. My debt to them can never be fully repaid. Thank you for all your efforts.

  • Warbucks

    Actually I think MarkA has a valid point that currently overrides re-population concerns.

    Map out what is there now, raise the structures, remove everything with heavy equipment, keep recovery records for returning residents, help the rebuild later. Go back and paint the outline of the foundations on the ground with durable paint that will last 2-seasons. That’s probably 30 days work…. tops and we are out of there.

    Who cares what the complaints are after “the war is over”? They will accept our rebuilding dollars I suspect, in any event. They evolve, we evolve. Live goes on.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    I assume you mean “raze” the structures. The problem is that without additional forces there, the Taliban come back in again, intimidate the population, and we start it all over again.

    The Taliban must be killed, and this takes troops.

  • MarkA

    Herschel – Agreed, Taliban must be killed. I don’t know where this administration or Karzai ever got the idea of negotiating with “moderate Taliban” (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one). I agree with you that it takes troops (and ROE, non-corrupt locals, etc.). Tactics regarding decimate/rebuild or stay and kill are beyond my knowledge and experience/knowledge. The objective is key: Kill Taliban!

  • davod

    My problem is what the definition of moderate is. Oh. and they should kill the Taliban.

  • marinemom

    I would just like to say that I appreciate the information on this site. I don’t feel I can believe all that I hear in the news and my son is currently in Now Zad. I try to be compassionate to the challenges my son and other brave Marines are facing there and this gives me a better understanding. Thank you.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Not many people are tracking things in Now Zad, are they? I recall beginning my quest for information when friend of The Captain’s Journal Major Cliff Gilmore sent an update directly from himself to me, and a good report it was.

    Please let us know what is going on there as best as you can. Unfortunately, the web based e-mail captain@captainsjournal.com isn’t currently working. I will send an e-mail to you directly.

    My utmost respect to your son and all those who currently serve there.

    Herschel Smith

  • marinemom

    I spoke with my son this past Friday, he indicated that they are taking fire on a regular basis, sometime for hours on end. The heat is oppresive, and there are limits on communication, everyone based there is awaiting mail and due to the fact that it’s heloed in, it’s not coming on a regular basis. He however sounded good and never complained, proud to be a Marine. They are living without what we would consider basics and proud of it. My son and I thank you for your well wishes and prayers.

  • blkfoot_04

    I found reading your updates on the Marines in Afghanastan and your Hard Corps (pun intended) view on the Adminastration and Central Commands lack of desciesion making on getting the job done in Afghanastan very straightforward and thought provoking.

    As for Now Zad, it definately seems politics is the only real obsticle there that the Marines are having difficulties with. I believe the Marines of Golf 2/3 are more than capable of doing the job…if only they we’re released to actually do and complete the job without their hands being tied. Yes, reinforcements for that size of a area are definately needed. Holding with just a Marine Company a city of 30,000 (before all the “civis” left” is pretty pethetic).

    IEDs, being 2/3′s main problem to conduct proper patrols and setting up ambush and sniper positions..probably could use a little help from several of these babies…:

    http://www.marines.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/HistoriesLBVfiredlaneclearingdevice.aspx

    Since there is no Marine Tank battalions on hand, are limited by air support, and restricted by the ROE anyways to use air support in areas of civilian build-up, A couple of good old fashion Combat engineer line charges sent down several streets or road paths, would easily clear out IED’s by either blowing them up, disrupting their detination command devices or by just scaring the hell out of everybody once they went off.

    Thus moving the Marines of Golf Co. 2/3 Closer to their objective and bringing their accurate Mortar/ Sniper firepower closer to the Taliban a Mile away. You wouldn’t be exposing the Marines to too much IED hazzards, since the pathways should be cleared or disrupted and not able to be command detentated from a distance. Step and repeat with follow-thru Line Charges.

    Oh, I’m sure the dust would get knocked off of a few Mud huts, but it wouldn’t destroy the city, just the Lanes the Marines would need to advance forward.

    Now follow Security would be a problem because it is only a Marine Company there…Not a Marine Battalion to actually get the job done, but, Using Marines from rear areas as Mop-up while the Infantry Marines push forward and Combat Engineers doing their magical thing…The Powers that be (CnC, and Central Command) wouldn’t have to sweat bring into country “More troops”. By the way, the Marines in the Rear I’m talking about are trained in Security operations before going over-seas, all non-Combat MOS Marines go thru a Basic Combat Skills course right after Boot Camp which is pretty damn close to Infantry training…and there is a pool of Marines available at Camp Leatherneck probably more willing than not to help bail out their fellow Marines at Now Zad. Every Marine is a Rifleman!

    Get some, Semper Fi!


You are currently reading "Life in Now Zad", entry #3628 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps,Now Zad and was published August 21st, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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