MUSA QAL’EH district, Helmand province --
Marines with Echo Company and members of the Afghan National Security Forces are participating in Operation Double Check, an operation to promote legitimate governance within the Musa Qal’eh district. This operation further spread the influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to untouched areas and provided an opportunity for Afghan forces to take on a greater role in security efforts.
Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, coordinated the operation launched Jan. 2 to eliminate insurgent fighters and establish Afghan Uniformed Police security posts along the southern Musa Qal’eh wadi, a dry riverbed in Northern Helmand province.
“The purpose was to clear the (insurgents) out of the southern Musa Qal’eh wadi and install a total of six Afghan Uniformed Police posts on both the east side and the west side of the wadi,” said Capt. George J. Flynn III, a Woodbridge, Va., native and the commanding officer for Echo Company. “The idea (is) to connect the people of this area, the southern Musa Qal’eh wadi, to the district center at Musa Qal’eh.”
The villages around the wadi were cut off from each other and the district center because of the improvised explosive device-laced roads and the negative influence of the insurgency. Echo Company was tasked to clear the west side of the wadi so the communities would be able to reconnect.
The battalion headquarters broke the operation into phases: clear the roads, give local residents freedom of movement, establish security measures in the area to prevent the insurgents’ return, and assist the Afghans in taking charge of security in the area.
Echo’s 2nd and 3rd Platoons were inserted into the area under the cover of darkness during the operation. Marines and their Afghan Uniformed Police partners began knocking on doors of specifically targeted compounds just minutes after CH-53 Sea Stallion Helicopters dropped the reinforced rifle platoons off.
The police and their Marine partners were assigned several compounds to clear through the next few nights. They cleared suspected enemy bed-down locations and looked for propaganda, weapons and other various suspicious material, while also looking for locations for the future AUP security posts, according to 1st Lt. Mark Capansky, a Woodstock, Va., native and a platoon commander with Echo Company.
“Second and 3rd Platoons flew in south of the villages of Regay and Kucha Regay. We brought a couple of police with us and conducted searches of suspicious compounds in preparation of allowing the AUP posts to be built,” said Capansky, who joined the Marine Corps in 2009. “What we were looking for was homemade explosive laboratories, drug labs, weapons caches, and key personnel in the insurgency.”
Flynn said he used take-a-ways from previous operations conducted during his current deployment to help bring an element of fear into the heart of the enemy.
“We’ve noticed operating here over the past four or five months, the enemy appears to have a routine schedule,” stated Flynn. “The idea of these night searches with police is to definitely send a message that we’ll come and find you and not give you a place to rest, and we’ll be able to detain you and take your weapons.”
He said these night operations are referred to as “making the dogs bark.”
“When the dogs are barking at night, it makes somebody think twice when they’re sleeping at night about who is outside their door. It’s even worse when you wake up in the early hours and you see a squad of Marines standing on your front lawn,” said Flynn. “(It) definitely makes you think twice about the activities you’re doing, and it also keeps the guy from going and putting an (IED) out because he doesn’t know where the Marines are.”
This technique not only takes away the enemy’s ability to sleep soundly, but also helped the AUP members develop their confidence, according to the 2001 graduate of Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va.
“It definitely allows the police to gain confidence in what they are capable of doing. These police are very capable; they just need the right push forward, and we were able to provide that,” added Flynn. “It is showing them a new technique in dealing with the enemy instead of meeting the enemy on his terms, which is in the middle of the day when he is able to egress. Catching him at night is definitely something we’ve been able to work with the police on and show them a way they can confidently execute and deter the enemy.”
Deter the enemy is exactly what they did. After the first four days of the operation, the Afghan-Marine team put enough scare into the hearts of its enemy the insurgents were running for the hills, or in this case for the ridgelines south and west of Regay. There was virtually one place the insurgents would engage their coalition adversaries from: at a distance.
The distance, along with random daytime patrols, allowed Echo Company to move into the next phase of the operation, which was to reduce the insurgent support. Marines achieved this by working with the Afghan National Army and AUP to quickly and efficiently build the AUP security posts, giving the police permanent structures from which to base their operations in the local area. Additionally, the police are effectively reducing the insurgent support by increasing their presence in the area because they are able to operate from their new security posts.
“Right now we are in the reducing the insurgent-support-base phase, where you have Marines working with the (Afghan) police, partnered to continue to build security (and) foster confidence in Afghan National Security Forces in their ability to provide security to the people of the southern Musa Qal’eh wadi,” said Flynn. “Soon we will transition to overwatch, where we will leave this area to the Afghan Uniformed Police to maintain that security, and we will be in a place where we can continue to monitor and assist them as needed.”
The remaining insurgents in the area attempted to remind the police and Marines of their fading influence by firing at them with sporadic small arms fire during the operation. This mild opposition has not turned the AUP and Marines away from their duty to secure and protect, but ultimately helped add to the reduction of insurgent presence in the area.
Flynn called for his Marines and the police to execute a battle tactic known as “movement to contact.” The police and Marines wanted to intentionally establish contact with the enemy to send a clear message to those remaining in the area: the area is secure and the AUP are in Regay to stay.
Three squads moved south in parallel with one another until they, as expected, drew the enemy out of hiding. Each poorly aimed spat of gunfire from the insurgents was promptly answered, if not by the disciplined hand of the Marines, then by the policemen’s trigger fingers.
“When we were moving down south, (the Marines) demonstrated awesome fire discipline. When they knew they saw an enemy, they had positive identification of the enemy; they had very controlled fires,” said Capansky. “I think a real sign of maturity I’m seeing out here is when the guys get shot at and calmly respond or know the best response is to wait. My guys maneuvered very intelligently, acted very bravely, and responded to the contact just how I’d want them to.”
Flynn said if their foe did not clearly hear the coalitions message, then they must surely see it painted in the skyline of each village in the area.
“It says something when an Afghan flag is flown every two to three kilometers because of the police posts there,” said Flynn. “It says something else when there are policemen walking around checking on the people, letting them know that there was an IED found right outside their house, and we’ve also removed that IED. I think those are clear signs of success that we’ve brought to this area.”
The Marines of Echo Company had faith in their coalition partners’ ability to establish their presence and maintain an image of strength in the area, but were taken aback by the AUP’s assertiveness and quickly spreading influence.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with how aggressive the police have been in terms of taking responsibility for themselves and not relying on the Marines to do everything for them. That has been an impressive sight to see,” said Flynn. “From the get-go, the police wanted to go out, patrol, and (they) would prefer for the Marines to stay back and be a quick reaction force, which is a great sign. That is a big step in developing their confidence.”
The AUP confidence continues to grow as each day passes, while the Marines work to fade into the shadows and support opportunities for the Afghans to make their own tactical decisions, giving them the confidence they need for future transition.
“The Marines understand that it is more important to get a win for police than it is for themselves,” said Flynn. “When I see these Marines get excited about the police doing good things, and the police going on patrol, it shows me they really understand their purpose out here.”
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6 in 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.