News: Marine, Afghan route clearance support Operation Afghan Warrior
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
WASHIR, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — The Marines from Route Clearance Platoon, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion performed a partnered route-clearance mission with the Afghan Route Clearance Tolai, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army in support of Operation Afghan Warrior, recently.
Operation Afghan Warrior is an Afghan National Security Forces lead operation to clear and secure the District of Washir from insurgent occupation and place it under the governance of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Marines’ mission was to search Route 612 for improvised explosive devices and ensure it was safe for travel for incoming military forces and local residents.
“Our job was to clear the Afghan Kandak and their advisor teams up from Delaram, across Highway 1 and Route 612 to Washir so they can carry on the mission clearing the town and the district center,” said 1st Lt. Christopher J. Campis, the platoon commander for Route Clearance Platoon, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “We have relatively robust clearance assets that enables us to provide them the protection, security and assurance they needed to get from one place to another.”
A considerable amount of planning for this mission was made prior to the platoon leaving Delaram because insurgent forces allegedly had placed hundreds of IEDs on the route and within the village itself.
“From the [intelligence] reports I received there was a number ranging from 100 to 200 IEDs between Washir and Delaram itself,” added the Holmdel, N.J., native. “As you noticed, when we cleared out there we didn’t find any on the route.”
The 2nd CEB RCP crept along clearing a small portion of Route 612 and a wadi, at a pace of about two miles per hour, followed closely by Afghan Route Clearance Company. It took two days and nearly 15 hours to reach the village.
The Afghan RCC was assigned to take over leading the convoy just shy of the village and stage their vehicles close to the bazaar and were to clear it and the district center of IEDs. The Marines were only tasked to escort the Afghan Forces to this point. It was here where ANSF took complete control of the operation and partnership between the Afghan RCC and the Marines was cut off.
“About a click away from the bazaar they cleared down Route 612,” said 1st Lt. Nathan A. Skopak, a combat engineer and the Afghan National Army Partnering Officer. “Their job was to clear the bazaar if the [criteria] was met. It wasn’t met, so they staged there and [slept] there for the evening. They cleared the bazaar and the government compound the next day."
The majority of the company was new to route clearance with little or no experience in the field and had only received about a month and a half of training prior to this mission, according to Skopak. The Afghan RCC has performed training missions on and around Delaram, but this was their first official mission.
Skopak, an Oklahoma City native, said the Afghan RCC was hesitant to employ their newly acquired skills and clear the area on foot until the platoon commander from 3rd Platoon, Afghan RCC, picked up a metal detector and began sweeping the area himself. The rest of the troops fell right in line and began applying all they had learned over the past month and a half after seeing their lieutenant courageously clear a route to the bazaar on foot.
“They have a lot of trust in [Second Lieutenant Said Kamal],” said Skopak. “That is why I think the mission was such a big success. It was a huge confidence booster for them.”
“They were very critical in clearing the bazaar. It was their soldiers who entered the bazaar and actually found two IEDs. They were able to clear the entire village of Washir,” said Campis, a 2009 Vanderbilt University graduate. “It shows that we’ve come a long way in terms of training the Afghans and getting them ready to take over security as a whole for the country. Just seeing what [1st Lt.] Skopak has done with his one [company] of route clearance Afghans and how far they have come in that month [along with] the success on their first mission, it just shows you there is promise in the future of being able to turn it over to them completely.”
The remaining Afghan National Security Forces involved in this operation were able to secure the village ensure there was no immediate threat to themselves or the local residents because the Marines of 2nd CEB RCP and the Afghan RCC cleared roughly 50 miles of unimproved road and the wadi while in route to and from the village of Washir.
Editor’s note: The 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward). The division serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.