Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Operation Eagle Hunt tested both the minds and bodies of the Marines and sailors supporting their Afghan brothers as they worked together to search southern Helmand for insurgents.
The recent Afghan-led operation was a small shaping operation to clear the Taghaz area of southern Helmand in preparation for future counterinsurgency operations to expand Afghan-led security. United States Marines are providing support to the Afghans throughout these operations in order to assist Afghan efforts to expand security, stability and development in the province.
The Marines and sailor of Team 1, Border Advisor Team 1, provided support to Afghan Border Police and Afghan Uniformed Police members, who spearheaded the operation, to offer advice when necessary, assist with logistics, and accompany their Afghan counterparts on mounted and dismounted partnered patrols.
The nights were cold, and the group weathered through wind chills nearly in the single digits, freezing water, and soggy mud as they carried packs and gear weighing more than 100 pounds. Their beds consisted of holes in the dirt they dug for themselves. The 12-man advisor team carried everything its members needed to survive for days in the battlefield everywhere they went, their tactical packs filled with water, food, sleeping systems, hygiene kits, warming layers, and more.
Day one of the operation started off for the Marines with a three-mile trek through sandy plains before reaching a compound they would later call home for the majority of the mission.
Jacksonville, N.C., resident 2nd Lt. Joel Elmendorf led the advisor team through miles of sand dunes, canals, farmlands and dangerous terrain in order to successfully support their ABP and AUP brothers-in-arms. The 28-year-old was the team leader for the unit and gave much credit for his team’s success to the members’ continuous positive attitude.
Combat engineers and civil affairs personnel accompanied the team throughout the mission. Staff Sgt. Anthony Atkinson of Long Island, N.Y., was the staff noncommissioned officer for the team and agreed his team met the challenges effectively.
“As long as we kept a basic concept of being able to shoot, move and communicate, it wasn’t very hard to incorporate (the additional members) into our mission because we know they have a specialty, but at the end of the day all Marines know how to shoot, move and communicate,” explained Atkinson.
The Marines in Team 1 didn’t have to do any shooting, but there was plenty of moving and communicating. Elmendorf spent much of his time keeping in constant communication with the ABP company commander, Hajji Salad, in order to coordinate efforts between the ABP and Marines.
According to Elmendorf, a U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association Academic All-American out of Southern Virginia University, the ABP members were eager to lead the patrols on their own. Leaving the Marines to serve more as a quick reaction back-up force than actually conducting partnered patrols.
The Marines conducted their own security patrols near their compound and interacted with local residents in the area while they waited to spring into action in case the ABP needed them. The cold weather, heavy packs, and long patrols didn’t seem to faze the Marines.
“The morale was good and that helped out a lot,” said Atkinson. “Yes we’re all cold and the ABP are sometimes doing their own thing, but just trying to stay focused on the positives and make jokes here and there brought the team closer.”
Working as a team allowed the members to operate smoothly without a glitch, and the Afghan forces took care of business during the operation.
The Afghan forces detained more than 100 local residents on allegations involving the growing and harvesting of illicit crops, such as poppy and marijuana, according to ABP officials. They also eliminated roughly 90 to 100 acres of hasheesh and confiscated at least 13 tractors in support of the Afghan government’s efforts to prevent illicit crops.
Editor’s Note: Border Advisor Team 1 is currently assigned in support of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 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.