Have we taken Now Zad?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

Several days ago this report appeared about the U.S. Marines in Now Zad.

Cpl. Justin Thompson crawled out of his rat hole dug deep into a wind-beaten, barren hilltop. Stepping over mounds of protective sand bags, he watched the sun rise over the Now Zad valley, a Taliban stronghold.

Thompson is part of a small Marine force that keeps watch over the deserted town of Now Zad.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, Marines from the same company are fighting to drive the Taliban out of the town of Dahaneh. But Marines stationed on ANP Hill are removed from the battle, relegated to keeping an eye on insurgent movements elsewhere in the Zad valley.

Three years of intense fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces have chased away Now Zad’s 30,000 inhabitants, leaving what had been one of the largest towns in southern Helmand province deserted.

The Marine company lacks the firepower to force the Taliban out of their positions just a mile away. So the Marines of ANP Hill keep watch over the area from their lonely outpost.

“Things can drag pretty slowly up here,” said Thompson, of Manchester, Tenn., who is on duty six hours out of every 18. His unit has been stationed on ANP Hill for over three months, with that many still to go. The position’s name, ANP, stands for Afghan National Police — even though no Afghan government official or police official has been stationed in the valley for years.

“The biggest thing here is not shooting the people who don’t need to be shot,” says 1st Lt. Malachi Bennett, of Tampa, Fla., the outpost’s commander and _at 26_ one of the oldest men on the hill. He says the platoon has been making some progress at befriending residents on the outskirts of town and luring them away from the Taliban.

“At first, villagers looked at us like animals from a zoo,” Bennett said early this week from the command post, where the briefing room is an earthen pit with an old Russian anti-aircraft battery that serves as a beam to hold the ceiling. “Now they come to talk to us on patrols.”

Life on ANP Hill is Spartan. The Marines have no air conditioning despite temperatures that can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The men sleep alone or in pairs in tiny dugouts barely 4 feet high that they’ve dubbed “Hobbit Holes,” a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s dwarflike character.

“It’s great, I love being up in the outpost,” Thompson said. “You get to know everybody, and there’s less hassle, it’s much more relaxed.”

Afghanistan is Thompson’s third deployment. He’s spent seven months “with some intense war stories” near Haditha in Iraq in 2006, and another “pretty peaceful” seven months in Fallujah in 2008.

Helmand is different from Iraq, Thompson said, because the Marines have learned their lessons from years of counterinsurgency. “In this type of fight you can’t be ‘gung-ho, kill everything,'” he said. “You’ll just be turning more people against you.”

Thompson jokes with his friends about injury, or death, during patrols.

He feels sorry for the villagers and children he meets on patrol. “We’re here to kick butt,” he says. “But you also want to do what you can to make their life a little bit better.”

For now, Thompson feels international forces are spread too thin to make much of a difference.

“Once they put a lot of Marines out here, it will get a lot better,” he says.

And The Captain’s Journal has been arguing almost violently for more Marines in Now Zad for quite some time.  Just today this report appeared about Now Zad (otherwise called Nawzad).

NAWZAD, Afghanistan, Aug 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Marines and Afghan officials hoisted the Afghan flag over a formerly Taliban-held district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday, signalling success in their latest advance days before a presidential election.

The 10,000 Marines in the Taliban’s opium-producing heartland of Helmand province are the largest wave of reinforcements sent by President Barack Obama this year as part of an escalation strategy designed to turn the tide in the 8-year-old war.

They have moved quickly into formerly Taliban-held areas, part of an effort to replicate the tactics used in Iraq of establishing a strong presence in small bases in towns and villages in Helmand.

Last week, 400 Marines, with 100 Afghan troops, launched operation Eastern Resolve II in the Nawzad district, one of about 10 districts of Afghanistan considered to be under Taliban rule.

“We have succeeded in regaining the district after years of Taliban control,” provincial governor Gulab Mangal said at a flag-raising ceremony in Nawzad, introducing a new district chief for the area. “We will make sure that our Afghan troops, with international forces, hold the ground and provide security.”

The district centre, high in the mountains in the northwest of Helmand, is all but completely destroyed after years of fighting — first by British forces and more recently by U.S. Marines — against Taliban fighters.

Much of the population has fled, and only about 100 people were on hand to attend a muted flag-raising ceremony. All shops and businesses in the town were closed, their walls pock-marked with bullets and buildings wrecked.

You can color The Captain’s Journal skeptical.  The Taliban are around, they need to be chased and killed.  More Marines have been deployed – apparently – to Now Zad.  This was too late for Corporal Matthew Lembke who lost both legs and later died while we were literally begging for more troops in Now Zad and also while entire Battalions of Marine infantry floated aboard Amphibious Assault Docks on MEUs wasting their time.

The ANA troops will not be able to take on the Taliban and hold Now Zad without Marines.  They will fail due to incompetence.  Have enough Marines been deployed to justify this loud (and perhaps unseemly) display of hoisting the flag and declaring victory?  We doubt it.

Prior: Now Zad Category

More Marines to Now Zad and Election-Centric Counterinsurgency

Patrolling Now Zad

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

Combat Video From Now Zad

Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Video of U.S. Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad

Close Air Support of Marines in Now Zad

Major Combat Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan

Marine Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan

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You are currently reading "Have we taken Now Zad?", entry #3605 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Now Zad and was published August 16th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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