SANGIN, AFGHANISTAN- In Afghanistan, the most common threat to coalition forces is not an insurgent wielding a weapon, but a pressure-plate explosive buried just below the surface of a road, waiting on a passing military patrol to fulfill its purpose: to kill as many as possible.
Over the years, Marines have developed new ways to defeat IEDs, but nothing works as well as preventing their emplacement entirely. After operating for nearly two months in Sangin, Marines of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, are putting this notion to the test.
Marines of Company K have successfully secured one of the local routes for over a month, preventing the enemy from emplacing IEDs while continuing counter-insurgency and civil military operations.
When Company K Marines entered the Northern Green Zone in mid-July, there was no road to travel. Coalition forces have not journeyed that deep into enemy territory in several years, leaving these Marines to forge their way through the enemy’s backyard with no foundation to build on.
“We had to make this road,” said Gunnery Sgt. Lafayette Waters, company gunnery sergeant of Company K, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “We used Assault Breaching Vehicles to clear the road.”
“During planning, I knew the road would need a route name that could resemble the strength of Kilo Company’s non-commissioned officers, which are the best my first sergeant and I have ever seen,” said Capt. Ryan Cohen, commanding officer of Company K, 3rd Bn, 7th Marines. “My father is a retired Marine, who was a battalion commander for [2nd Battalion, 7th Marines], and his call sign was ‘Conan.’ I knew there was no other name powerful enough.”
The road was then named ‘Route Conan,’ after Cohen’s father.
Building and naming the road was just the beginning. The Marines knew that the enemy would try to place IEDs on this new route and it would have to be protected. A constant presence and regular patrols ensure that the watchful eyes of Company K Marines are always on the route.
The route is also surrounded by concertina wire in multiple areas along its path, and Marines man posts along the road as well to ward off any would-be IED implanters, according to Cpl. David Davis, a communications technician and Sacramento, Calif., native.
The Marines take advantage of the road’s security.
“We have made between 200 and 300 trips,” said Waters, a 37-year-old native of Kinston, N.C.
“Marines can walk on the road from one patrol base to another and they don’t have to worry about stepping on an IED,” added Waters.
The route’s frequent use is a direct reflection of the Marines effective security measures to ensure its safety against IEDs.
“This is the safest road in Afghanistan,” Waters said. “In 36 days, we have only hit one improvised explosive device and it was actually off the route.”
The Marines are not the only ones who know the route is safe. The enemy knows it too and does not like it, Davis said.
“We have to keep 24/7 security on the route to keep it safe,” Davis said. “They fire rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms at the trucks we use to defend it.”
The route is worth the trouble, according to Cohen, a 31-year-old native of Pompano Beach, Florida. The route is safe because of the actions of his Marines.
“The truest success behind Route Conan has been the squad leader who provides security for his section of the road daily.”
Marines continue to patrol Route Conan day after day, and while villagers and Marines alike travel this road, they will do so knowing they are under the watchful eye of Company K.
This work, Squad leaders conquer IED threat on Route Conan, by LCpl Ned Johnson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.