News: OPERATION ZAPOONKI GUZAROONA: 1/5 Clears, Pushes Fighters North
Story by Cpl. Benjamin Crilly
SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - The reinforced company-level clearing operation led by Company B cleared more than 250 compounds north of the battalion’s area of operations to push insurgents out of the area and prevent them from exploiting the area that has not seen a Marine-led operation of this magnitude.
2nd and 3rd Platoons, Company B, and the ANA cleared between Route 611 and Helmand River North. Intelligence shows that they were successful in disrupting enemy operations.
“The insurgents exploit the boundary between Bravo Company, 1/5 and Recon. They move south across the boundary to engage our partnered patrols then egress back north. They use [the space between units] as a safe haven,” said 1st Lt. Travis R. Topolski, the platoon commander for 3rd Plt. “The insurgents use the boundary itself as an IED belt in an attempt prevent us from maneuvering on them during a direct-fire engagement. The overall purpose of the clearing operation was to create a more stable environment and to deny the enemy the ability to attack our patrols on their terms and egress to a safer location.”
As the main effort for the operation, the two rifle platoons on the ground clearing were supported by Combined Anti-Armor Teams, Scout Sniper Platoon, Advisor Training Teams and direct support assets from within the company. Every element contributed to the operation’s success whether they were on the ground clearing with the platoons, maintaining a security cordon to prevent enemies from fleeing the area or providing immediate intelligence to the Marines searching.
“Every Marine had a specific task that facilitated the desired end state. We could not have accomplished the mission without everyone working toward the same goal,” said Topolski, from Destin, Fla.
The four Marine rifle squads broke down into reinforced teams and moved into the area to methodically clear the confined objectives.
“Breaking down into so many elements was a good way to saturate the area and deny enemy freedom of movement,” said Cpl. Matthew T. Woodall, a squad leader for 3rd Plt. “The more presence we have in an area prevents the enemy’s ability to set up and move on us.”
With so many friendly units in the area, it was imperative that the Marines knew their sectors of fire and were aware of where the other elements were moving, said Woodall, a 2003 graduate of Heath High School from Paducah, Ky. Small unit leaders worked non-stop coordinating the company’s movements and de-conflicting sectors of fire on the ground.
“It’s like running a one-man combat operations center,” said Topolski, who spent the majority of the three days passing information back and forth between the company and his squad leaders. “It’s a constant effort to maintain position reports for all your units.”
The improvised explosive device threat is the most significant threat the Marines faced during the operations, said Topolski, a 2007 graduate of the University of West Florida. Even though some elements did receive and return small-arms fire, the enemy could not sustain any effective resistance to the Marines and ANA soldiers clearing the area.
Marines like Lance Cpl. Adam B. Kramvik, an assaultman for 3rd Plt., were on the ground sweeping for IEDs because it was the only way the enemy was able to attack coalition forces. Despite this the Marines and ANA soldiers pushed on and continued to disrupt the enemy.
“At one point the insurgents called for arms to support their failing endeavor and their requests were unanswered,” said Kramik, from Moorhead, Minn. “We started to see people take a stand against the enemy.”
The response from the people showed coalition forces had succeeded in the operation. Their accomplishments can also be seen in the multiple caches, emplaced IEDs, and IED components they discovered and removed from Sangin.
“That is what I was most proud of; knowing that we are getting all that stuff out of there. Finding any IED making material is potentially saving lives,” said Kramvik, a 2005 graduate of Shanely High School. “We pushed them back and did a lot of counterinsurgency during the three days.”
By the third day, they were in an area where a coalition presence isn’t common and had intrigued homeowners already waiting outside of their compounds ready for the ANA and Marines to search.
Keeping in mind that first impressions are everything, the Marines and ANA soldiers were professional and respectful while searching and connecting with the people to show them they are there to create a safe and stable environment for the people.
The first two days, the Marines only saw locals fleeing in the morning and returning to their homes in the evening in response to insurgent threats. This meant the Marines had to be aware of the innocent local citizens’ whereabouts and fluidly transition between an enemy-focused and citizen-focused environment. The last day of the operation, the locals did not leave the area due to the expulsion of the enemy fighters.
“The final day was pure counterinsurgency. The squad I was with finished their portion of the objective first and had about an hour and half to wait before the second squad could finish,” said Topolski. “During that time we had about 25 local nationals just hanging out with Marines talking and having fun.”
“It was nice. It was a nice finish to a rather difficult fight we had,” said Topolski. “The success comes down to discipline and brilliance in the basics.”