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    Fighting a thinking enemy; Marines, Afghan Forces engage Taliban with more than brute force

    HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Beleaguered and tired, with combat boots half filled with water, Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and the Afghan national army soldiers attached to their unit, trudge through flooded canals in the Shorshurak region of Helmand province, Jan. 29.

    Sucking and sloshing sounds follow in their wake as the members of the patrol wrench one foot out of the mud, only to embed the other in wet clay moments later. Making their way out of the damp, uneven gully, the Marines and soldiers stalk across fields, where farmers have begun to emerge from their homes in the early morning to tend to their crops.

    In the distance, men on foot and others on motorbikes trail the patrol, but are watched cautiously by designated marksmen, peppered throughout the column. At every compound where they stop, the unit leaders meet with the heads of the household, trying to get a sense of the community's concerns.

    Having recently moved into the region, replacing Alpha Company, 1/6, the Marines with Charlie Company, conducted census patrols in order to get acquainted with their surroundings, as well as their neighbors. The Marines' intent to build rapport with local communities is made all the more hazardous and challenging due to near constant harassment and outright attack by insurgents operating in the area.

    "It's a difficult area — it directly borders the Taliban [stronghold] adjacent to us," said 1st Lt. Aaron B. MacLean, 2nd platoon commander, Charlie Company, 1/6. "It's stressful, but it's what we do — pleased to do, to be here at the front of the fight. Our goal, which is to kill the enemy while reducing civilian causalities, is difficult because the [Taliban] know that's our priority. It's difficult to go out and be manipulated like we are, but we follow the rules."

    "A lot of foreign fighters have been moved into our area of operations," said MacLean "As we flooded in, so did they. The Taliban sent in a crack group of insurgents to counter ours. Their preferred method of killing is through the use of improvised explosive devices. Marines are in heavy combat out here and facing the jihadist A-team, but we're defeating them regularly and protecting the locals."

    The fighting in the area has intensified in recent weeks, with Charlie Company.

    "Our platoon was hit hard and we lost key leaders," said MacLean. "Our hearts go out to their families and we think about them all the time."

    In addition to facing imminent danger, the Marines are finding themselves frequently put in positions where they cannot engage insurgents, due to their enemy's manipulation of the rules of engagement.

    "We're facing a thinking enemy, they adapt to our tactics in order to counter them," said MacLean. "They are very cynically taking advantage of our rules of engagement. We've seen them multiple times, fleeing the area with women and children as human shields. Their spotters frequently have kids on the backs of their mopeds to deter us from firing."

    "Improvised explosive devices are the biggest threat right now, coupled with them accurately firing and maneuvering on us," said Lance Cpl. Joseph S. Jones the fifth, a team leader with Charlie Company, 1/6. "Compared to last year the Taliban is more organized this time," said Jones, who was with 1/6 on their last deployment to Afghanistan where they served in the Garmsir District under the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "They're ready for us this time — they know it's tough for us to use air, and even once helos showed up, they kept firing. They weren't scared at all. It really does suck, when we could take them out with indirect fire or air support, but we can't because they're near a compound or have civilians with them — now we have to maneuver under heavy enemy fire."

    "We're forced to rely on the organic weapons in the platoon and not on outside assets," said Jones. "It definitely messes with our heads. It generates doubt instead of letting us focus on engaging the enemy, so you have to work at keeping your Marines' heads in the game and keep them focused on their job."

    However, for all the difficulties the Marines face due to insurgents in the region, they have been able to positively interact with the civilians in the area who want the Taliban pushed out.

    "Some parts of the area of operations you can sit down and hold a shura or speak with key leaders," said MacLean. "They want the Taliban gone, but are scared and need them pushed away."

    The Afghan army soldiers are able to represent the government and its role in fighting insurgency in the region.

    "I spoke with the villagers in order to build relationships and rapport with them, mostly speaking with the children," said Maj. Shakatklah, an Afghan national army soldier with Charlie Company, 1/6, through an interpreter. "It's not our first time doing this, we've been at it for years. I can talk with the people and speak with them. This is a good area, the enemy can't succeed here. It's our job to fight for our country and to fight this enemy."

    While meeting with the villagers and taking notes on their concerns and grievances, the patrol served the dual purpose of allowing both parties to get to know one another personally.

    "We wanted to let them know we're here and why, which is to get them the freedom they need, not take their land like the Taliban says," said Cpl. Jarrod St. Onge, a squad leader with Charlie Company, 1/6. "We were definitely welcomed. The Afghan national army soldiers being there helped to put an Afghan face on our efforts here. Our partnering with them helps to strengthen their faith in the Afghan government."

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 01.29.2010
    Date Posted: 02.02.2010 05:50
    Story ID: 44774
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    Web Views: 938
    Downloads: 778

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