3/6 Marines work to better Khowst

2 Nov 2004 | Capt. Brendan Heatherman

Lieutenant Colonel Julian Alford, commander of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, sat conversing in the house of an Afghan doctor in the Khowjah Kalay village when a loud explosion interrupted their conversation. A militant fired a 107mm rocket at the battalion commander while he conducted an operation with Weapons Company in the mountains between the provinces of Khowst and Gardez. The two men jumped to their feet and made their way to the door. The explosion was quickly followed by eight blasts from the Marines’ 81mm mortars. Scout snipers, attached to the company, in the hills spotted the point of origin of the rocket attack. They quickly worked up a fire mission for the mortars who responded within minutes, putting lethal rounds on the attackers. The rocket attack suddenly came to an abrupt halt.Following the attack, the doctor’s small daughter dressed in the traditional Afghan clothing ran to her father from the other side of the compound. She had a huge smile on her face as she asked her father a question in Pashtun.“What did she say?” Alford asked as the doctor laughed.“She said, ‘Daddy, are the American soldiers killing Al-Qaeda?” the doctor explained.The battalion began operating in Afghanistan in early May and recently moved to Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khowst Province. They previously operated in several different provinces near Kabul and Bagram Airfield. At Salerno, the battalion was offered a change of scenery and many new challenges: a welcome change.“We have the biggest area of operation in the theatre,” said Alford, an Atlanta native, “With many different units operating with us.“The battalion is working with three different Provincial Reconstruction Teams, including the Afghan National Army, a division of the Afghan Militia Force and several other coalition forces. We’ve been getting up into the mountains,” Alford explained. “The people seem happy that we’re there.” In less than a month, the battalion has conducted numerous operations throughout Khowst Province and an equal number of operations in the Nangarhar and Paktia Provinces. All operations were in the eastern and most active area of the country. In addition, the battalion has conducted numerous humanitarian projects, to include medical care for villagers, construction of wells and providing school supplies to children.“The work we’ve been doing has a positive impact. Response from the local population has been extremely favorable and gives us hope for the future of this area of Afghanistan,” said Capt. Richard Pitchford, current operations officer for the battalion and a native of Norfolk, Va.Recently, the 25th Division Afghan Militia Force, led by Gen. Khil Baz, hosted a dinner to welcome the battalion to Khowst. The dinner included a traditional Afghan feast, introductions of personnel and an entertaining display of Afghan dancing performed by Afghan soldiers and villagers. The evening ended with a tour of the AMF compound, including a building over 90-years-old that serves as a lookout over the town and the picturesque landscape. “We welcome Lieutenant Colonel Alford and the Marines to our town,” said General Kil Bhaz, “I know we will be friends. We will work together for the security of Afghanistan.”The Marines and the Afghan forces will need to work together. The Forward Operating Base has already endured many rocket attacks and IED threats. Furthermore, the Marines have supported several attacks by Anti-Coalition Militants at the Border Checkpoints near Pakistan.“We do as many operations as we can with the Afghans,” said Pitchford. “It’s not only a force multiplier, but it gives the people in the villages a sense that they are being protected by their own.” As the scheduled presidential elections were loomed on the horizon, the battalion worked with the Afghan militias and police to prepare and execute a plan ensuring the polling day will be as successful as possible.