SHUKVANI, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
A blast of fire, triggered by 1,750 pounds of C4 explosive, erupted from the ground sending a shockwave ripping through the air. Secondary explosions suggested local improvised explosive devices sympathetically detonated as a massive mushroom cloud rose into the sky.
The Marines and sailors of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, assisted by the Republic of Georgia’s 33rd Light Infantry Battalion, leveled the Ladar Bazaar recently, effectively clearing the area of IEDs and negating the insurgency of IED storage facilities.
Local residents were unable to trade their goods in the marketplace without risking their own lives previous to the operation. They were upset with having to travel more than five miles, often carrying their goods by foot to the nearest market. The residents came to the Marines, hoping they would clear the bazaar and rebuild safe and secure compounds. A Civil Affairs Team attached to the 33rd Georgian Battalion sat down with local leaders to figure out a solution to the problem.
“This is a symbolic operation,” said Chesterfield, Va., native Sgt. Sean May, a Civil Affairs Team leader. “(The bazaar) is something the (insurgents) have deprived the people of. The Afghan government is telling the insurgents that this is our area now.”
The Marines attempted to clear the marketplace throughout the early months of 2011, but the area was covered with IEDs and saturated with the insurgency’s presence. Firefights broke out and the Marines risked triggering booby traps littered across roads and hidden in mud compounds every time they endeavored to clear the bazaar.
“(The insurgents) have underground tunnels in there and they’re using them as armories,” said Camby, Ind., native Lance Cpl. Joshua Hoffman, an engineer with the battalion. “Every single place is booby-trapped, every door locked and there are pressure plates everywhere. There is no way to clear that place – we have to level it.”
The Marines, unable to use air strikes to level the bazaar due to the potential for civilian casualties, ultimately decided the best course of action would be an explosive breach with mechanical clearance.
“We will destroy all of the buildings and any IEDs in the area,” said Capt. John Shubeck, a Centerville, S.D., native and company commander with 2nd CEB. “Then we will bring in bulldozers to push the rubble to the sides.”
Second CEB decided to launch 35 line charges strategically throughout the bazaar, each comprising of 1,750 pounds of C4 along a 350 – foot rope while planning for the operation. A rocket fired from an assault breaching vehicle, a modified M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, primarily used for clearing obstacles for following tactical vehicles and dismounted infantry units, extends the charges 100 meters in front of the vehicles before the Marines detonate the charges.
“Then the Route Clearance platoon will push through the bazaar, clearing the area of IEDs,” said Urbana, Ohio, native 1st Lt. Chase Wheeler, the executive officer for Company C, 2nd CEB. “That way we, as engineers, have done everything we can to ensure the bazaar is clear of IEDs. By doing this our way, we are being safe, taking care of the IED threat, and we are more involved with the locals.”
Marines plan to offer the local residents work helping to remove the rubble while the Georgians provide security to the area during the construction of the new bazaar, scheduled to begin within two weeks of the operation’s completion. Afghan National Army soldiers partnered with the 33rd Georgian Battalion will enter the area to provide security to the citizens once the bazaar is built.
The insurgency had its roots dug deeply within the Ladar Bazaar, but the Marines of 2nd CEB effectively displaced their foothold in the area. The former IED- laden bazaar now lies in ruin, a shattered message to the insurgency that the people of Afghanistan will no longer be ruled by fear. Among the rubble lies a beacon of hope and the opportunity to bring families, trade, and economical growth to the region.
Editor’s note: Second Combat Engineer Battalion is currently assigned to 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.