News: Marines, ANSF find weapons caches, secure southern river valley
Story by Cpl. Ned Johnson
COMBAT OUTPOST PAYNE, Afghanistan— “The Jungle” is one of the many Taliban strongholds in the Southern Helmand River Valley.
“The Jungle” is what the Marines call the area due to its dense foliage and brush along the river’s edge. The Taliban have been using heavy brush, to conceal their movement and to hide weapons and bomb-making materials, at least up until now.
Marines with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward) partnered with two companies of Afghan Border Police and a company of Afghan Uniformed Police to clear “The Jungle” and the villages in the river valley of Taliban activity during a five-day operation called “Big Valley.”
“The insurgents are intimidating the people of Khan-Neshin District, and they are using the river valley as a facilitation zone for other parts of Helmand province,” said Capt. Austin Murmane, the assistant operations officer with 3rd LAR Bn. “We want to disrupt their transit routes and lines of communication.”
Operation Big Valley, which put the Afghan National Security Forces in the driver’s seat, was a success, said Lt. Col. Ken Kassner, battalion commander of 3rd LAR Bn. “We have found several weapons and ammo caches. We also found multiple improvised explosive device making materials and drugs.”
This mission, however, would not have been possible without the hard work of the previous months according to Kassner, who said a lot of intelligence came from local people telling the Marines what they have seen.
“This operation continues to capitalize on the prior successes in the area, and helps reinforce the relationships we have established with the locals,” said the 43-year-old native of Coupland, Texas.
Afghan forces were also one of the most important parts of the operation.
“The Afghan police weren’t just there with us, they were involved,” Kassner said. “They were heavily involved in the planning and rehearsals, but they also took a large leading role on the missions.”
An Afghan leading role is good for the locals as well.
“When they see us working with their national forces, they realize the Marines are here to help and it bolsters their confidence,” Kassner said. “Seeing their own forces increases their feelings of security because literally, ‘Seeing is believing.’”
More than just taking the lead, the Afghans are beginning to take pride in what they do.
“They are performing quite well,” Kassner said. “Most notably is their motivation. I patrolled with several policemen who personally told me, ‘It is a great honor to serve my country.’”
“Big Valley”, which increased security in the area, was good for the Marines as well.
“When my Marines see more and more of the Afghan forces and that we are finding contraband items, it lets them know that what we are doing here is important and it matters,” Kassner added.
The Marines, who call themselves the Wolf pack, are not finished yet, though.
“Our next step is to continue actively engaging with the local population and we will continue to aggressively patrol the area,” Kassner said. “We will keep the elders informed and work closely with the district government. Unless security and governance are working together, we will not achieve the perfect security environment.”
The Marines will also continue to help their Afghan partners for the betterment of Afghanistan.
“We are here to help professionalize the Afghan forces,” Kassner said. “We will continue to lead by example and continue to see more of the improvements that will make them a fully-capable, self-sufficient force.”