PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
For some people on-the-job training means learning about the programs and tools they'll be using. For the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, it means helping the Afghan National Security Force members learn how to perform their job more efficiently while helping them defend their nation.
Marines teamed up with ANSF recently for Operation Horizon, a company-level mission to disrupt insurgent activities in the area. This operation was in support of a regiment-level operation called Harvest Moon, another ANSF and Marine operation intended to ensure the transports carrying the raw drugs don’t make it to the market.
Operation Horizon was meant to compliment the mission of Harvest Moon by making it more difficult for the funds procured from the sale of poppy to find their way into the hands of the insurgents.
"The insurgent cell was estimated to be a 10- to 15-man group," said 1st Lt. Jameson Payne, the 3rd platoon commander for Company G, 2/3. "This cell, and the commander in particular, is known to have set up several (Improvised Explosive Devices), and we believe he's responsible for several attacks and ambushes against both (Afghan Uniformed Police) and Marine forces."
Payne said he is certain the insurgents' capabilities were severely limited by the mere presence of the coalition forces in the area.
The operation also provided an opportunity for the Marines and AUP to continue training, furthering the AUP’s ability to take control of security in the future.
"One of the biggest parts of the (operation) is we're using this as a training opportunity for the AUP," Payne said. "Aside from the (operation), our primary mission while we're here at the (base) is to train the AUP and facilitate the transition of Afghan forces taking command. That way when the Marines leave, it'll be as safe as it was with them here, if not safer. Working like this, we’ve made a lot of progress with the AUP."
Payne explained a lot of the improvements the police force has been making may seem small, but they make a world of difference to a well-trained organization, things like continuous communication and proper equipment maintenance. The Marines recognized the Afghan forces' need for more formal training and took action.
"We've established two training academies, one at FOB Geronimo and one at Patrol Base Jaker. Those have been vital for the improvement of both the (Afghan National Army) and the AUP," said 1st Lt. Lane Harper, the assistant operations officer at FOB Geronimo. "It gives them a formal environment to learn the skills they need, as opposed to doing it on the fly while they're out on patrol."
That formal training, along with the history of operations they've done with coalition forces, has helped increase the AUP's and ANA's capabilities on missions and, in-turn, helps both the Afghan forces and the Marines successfully and professionally accomplish their missions.
"During the (operations), it's on-the-job training," Payne said. "(Operation) Horizon is not a training operation; it’s a live operation with real enemies, but through live operations we’ve been helping train the police. Working like this, we've made a lot of progress with the AUP."
Both Payne and Harper agreed the ANSF forces are valuable contributors in accomplishing the successes that happen on operations like Horizon and Harvest Moon.
"The ANA has enabled us to do everything we did," said Harper. "Without them out there, we're more restricted in what we can do.”
The ANA play a critical role in these operations, as coalition forces are not allowed to eradicate poppy crops or directly interfere with the actual harvest. During Operation Horizon, the AUP were able to confiscate both raw drugs and the equipment used to harvest them.
"It's a success for us when we find their weapons or equipment and supplies,” said Harper. “Ultimately, us going in and searching the homes of guys we know to be insurgents, driving them out of their homes and driving them away from their friends disrupts their ability to make plans and execute their missions against ANSF forces and the Marines. That is a successful aspect of the operation."
Harper said there are currently few fights breaking out between insurgents and coalition forces while they move through the area. While patrolling and searching homes for the insurgents, they found a number of contraband items and have been able to disrupt a lot of their movements by just having an active presence in the area.
"Capturing bad guys and confiscating their equipment are successes, but we're also being successful by just disrupting their operations and preventing attacks on ANSF forces," said Harper. "I feel this operation has been a success. We’ve made big improvements with the AUP. If we had run this operation six months ago it would have been a mess, but now they are executing it smoothly. It was a complicated plan and it’s been executed fairly well. That in itself is a success."
Editor’s note: The battalion is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 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 Force 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.