News: Washington team sets foundation for Kajaki district
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Helmand province, Afghanistan — Relics of three decades of war are scattered about the mountainsides and along the river in the Kajaki district. Soviet mines, tarnished tanks and artillery pieces, and an ever-present threat of improvised explosive devices are a constant reminder of the instability of the area of Kajaki.
Second Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, holds security of the largest asset in the area — the Kajaki Dam. The link between this power source, the Marines of 2/12, and the citizens of Kajaki is a team of Marines from the 4th Civil Affairs Group.
The Kajaki Civil Affairs Team, which is based out of Washington, D.C., and attached to 2/12, arrived in Afghanistan in late May to help encourage peace and stability through key leader engagements and development projects in the Kajaki district.
“Up until May, the Kajaki district had not had a civil affairs team operating in it,” stated Capt. Raphael Clarke, a Washington, D.C., native and the officer in charge of the CAT. “We are coming into a very ‘green’ area of operations that has not had this capability in it. We are starting at ground zero and working our way up.”
One of the CAT’s responsibilities is to assist the commanding officer for 2/12 and the district governor of Kajaki in their decisions that can affect the citizens of the district.
“In this environment we are able to advise the commander on missions and different courses of actions and what kind of affect they will have on the people,” said Sgt. Christopher Gonzales, the enlisted team leader for the CAT. “It is very important [to have support from the local citizens]. The things we do affect the people and benefit the people, therefore, we gain their support for our operations.”
Clarke, Gonzales, and Marines in the CAT work closely with 2/12 to engage with the local residents in the villages surrounding the FOB. Gonzales, a Baltimore native, said they meet daily with members of 2/12 to coordinate civil affairs plans and interaction with the local citizens. He also mentioned it is their job to help mentor local government officials and help them promote political and economic stability.
The CAT is building its relationship with the district governor to advise him on the best means of providing essential services for people. These relationships are essential so the district governor can host small- and large-scale projects for local economic growth and sustainability in the most efficient manner possible.
“We utilized all [non-combative] options to promote peace to improve security and stabilize the Kajaki district,” said Clarke, a Dartmouth College graduate. “We can be as creative and innovative as we want to achieve our mission objective.”
The CAT has recently had meetings with Kajaki local residents and members of the district governor’s office to discuss ideas to get the district moving in a forward direction. Security was a key piece of the conversation. Their concerns were that of the dwindling population in the area due to a determined insurgent presence and the many IEDs littering most of the main routes to Kajaki.
A Kajaki native, a man referred to as Rosie, is the head of personal security for the district governor and expressed the need to clear the roads of IEDs so the population can return. He said he believes once the population begins to increase, the people of Kajaki can recruit for local security.
“The people need security. [It is the] one thing Kajaki district needs to develop itself and move forward. There is a self-starter attitude here,” said Clarke.
The Marines said they could sense the resentment their Afghan associates feel toward the insurgents, who raid their villages and prevent free range of travel in this northern part of the province.
The CAT must now work to find the most reasonable solutions and advise the district governor on what can be done to clear and secure the routes and what non-combative actions can be taken to mitigate these night raids.
Clarke and Gonzales both concur Kajaki has unlimited development potential. The members of the CAT said maintaining open lines of communication with the local population and with higher levels of the Afghan government is important for development to begin.
“We will continue to support, equip, and advise the district governor, and we will look to do small-scale projects that directly serve the immediate needs of the people,” said Clarke in regards to their future plans. “We are going to put in writing a grassroots petition to the provincial government and, if needed, the national government to open up Route 611.”
Route 611 is one of the main routes in the area and connects Kajaki to the rest of the province. The members of the CAT said it is essential to clear the portions of this route which are laden with IEDs before the people will feel safe enough to return.
The CAT members at Kajaki said they feel there is a long road ahead of them, but with the motivation and experience from each person on the team, they believe there is hope for the future.
“I think Kajaki has unlimited development potential; I feel Kajaki is right for some great Civil Affairs work,” Clarke stated. “Hope is a course of action.”
“Editor’s note: The Civil Affairs Team is attached to Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. The battalion is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 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.”