WAZIRABAD, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
The rising sun crept slowly over the horizon, spilling drops of sunlight over the Helmand River Valley as Afghan Border Police and Marines trekked across the dunes overlooking the town. At approximately 4:30 a.m., the early morning silence shattered as AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters pierced the clouds, eliciting smiles from the members of the group – they knew they were not alone. Light armored vehicles armed with 25 mm Bushmaster automatic cannons crested the ridge-line, providing security for the dismounted service members.
The ABP partnered with the Marines of Company C, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), descended into the valley 27 June to provide security for the Afghan civilians in the area during Operation Velvet Hammer. The ongoing operation is being conducted to secure the town, disrupt insurgent lines of communication in the area, and begin building a positive relationship with the town’s citizens.
The Marines knew little about the town prior to the operation, as there was no cause for ABP and Marine forces to patrol that area for several years. However, recent information indicated insurgents might be using the area as a transit location for illicit smuggling and it possibly included an improvised explosive device-making cell nearby. The ABP and Marines entered the town on their guard and ready for anything. They moved strategically through lush farmlands, introducing themselves to local residents who live in the mud compounds that make up the town.
“We are asking people to enter, being polite, being courteous, the same thing you would want someone coming into your house to act like,” said Sgt. Jeffery Neill, an intelligence analyst with the battalion. “It shows we aren't out here to hurt anyone, but here to help them.”
The Afghan Border Police, who proved an essential ally during the search of the mud compounds, provided unparalleled knowledge on the area and educated the Marines on where to look for smuggled goods.
“I think being partnered with the ABP was the key to our success,” said 1st Lt. John D. Jones, a New Bern, N.C., native and intelligence operations officer with the battalion. “Marines provided the firepower and the arms to (help) accomplish the mission, but our partnership with the ABP allowed insight into the culture. They were able to locate illicit materials and also provide a cultural relevance to the people of Wazirabad.”
Temperatures rose slowly throughout the day, testing the Marines, yet the team members remained focused on their mission. A resupply of cold water came near mid-day, refreshing the men and renewing their vigor.
“I think it’s been running smoothly so far,” said Neill, a Jacksonville, N.C., native. “The people have been generally cooperative.”
As the day progressed, Afghan farmers tended their fields while their children ran barefoot to the Marines and sailors with smiles spreading across their faces. Giggles and laughter filled the air as they poked fun at how big the Marines' body armor made them look. However, the seriousness of the situation was never overlooked and the ABP continued their relentless search for illegal substances, weapons and signs of the insurgency, backed by the Marines on hand to support them.
“The ABP is very good at what they do,” said Capt. Curtis South, the commanding officer for Company C. “It was our first time working with them, but they have been doing this for a long time. They are very experienced. They know the culture; they know the customs; they know the right questions to ask to find out where the bad guys are.”
The push through the town came to a close when the company reached the final compound and the sun began to dip below the ridge-line. Without a shot being fired, the ABP and Marines confiscated several items and began a positive relationship with the local residents.
“The operation was a great opportunity to hone our skills working with the ABP,” said South, a Stone Mountain, Ga., native. “The mission was a success because we showed our faces. We told the locals we are here, and now they can start building that trust and confidence in us.”
Editor’s note: 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck, 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.