SHIR GHAZAY, HELMAND PROVINCE,, AFGHANISTAN
SHIR GHAZAY, Helmand province, Afghanistan - The road between Combat Outpost Shir Ghazay and Forward Operating Base Now Zad, known as Route Landy Nawa, is nothing more than tire tracks through powdery dirt. For miles in any direction there is nothing to be seen but the occasional dust devil and local citizens driving through.
This desolate road has been the cause of much turmoil for the Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, as they try to traverse it. The road has claimed multiple vehicles to improvised explosive device explosions as they try to move between patrol bases. To combat this obstacle, the Marines with the Combined Anti-Armor Team, 3/2, and Tanks from 2nd Tank Battalion, have posted a ‘picket line’, vehicles lining the road to prevent tampering, screen traffic and guard it from the insurgency
“Right now in Shir Ghazay we have a picket line that exists to open up routes from here to Now Zad,” said Capt. Byron McCoy, the executive officer of Weapons Company, and a Liberty, Mo., native. “A couple functions that they serve are that we have a main road that can be used by local citizens as well as coalition forces. What that does is it secures the road. It eliminates people coming in and laying IEDs, which is a threat to Marines as well as local [citizens].“
The road is as helpful to the Marines as it is to the local citizens, who use it for travel and the delivery of goods to other districts. Residents of Musa Qal’eh have noticed a dramatic difference in the cost of goods being sold in the local bazaars, or market places. In addition to providing more security to combat the threat of IEDs, the picket line eliminates the insurgent’s ability to create checkpoints along the route. These checkpoints illegally tax the people and commerce.
A local Afghan in the Musa Qal’eh District, between Shir Ghazay and Now Zad, was quoted saying that "market prices have dropped due to fewer insurgent check points. The price of gas was 1,000 Kaldar [local currency] a liter two months ago, now it’s only 75 Kaldar a liter,” according to reports from Marine patrols polling citizens of Now Zad District.
“By keeping this road secure and open, we have basically created a road from one company’s battle area to another company’s battle area; basically creating a roadway where we can move traffic that consists of local citizens movements as well as commerce from the southern part of the province up into some of the more isolated regions of the north,” McCoy, a 2008 Naval Academy graduate, said. “By doing this we increase the flow of goods; increase the ability of main commercial centers within Helmand. One of the effects we have seen because of this is that some of the prices in northern Now Zad within the markets have gone down because security has increased.”
The process of creating the picket line was difficult to establish. The road has been littered with IEDs waiting for vehicles to run over and detonate them. From Combat Outpost Shir Ghazay to Patrol Base Salaam Bazaar, the closest neighboring Marine base, there is only one likely route to be taken due to terrain restrictions. The insurgency knows the likely places to plant the IEDs.
“Our platoon started down here around May 25, and in a week and a half, we were averaging almost an IED every day because they just place them out there,” said Gunnery Sgt. Emmanuel Anglade, platoon sergeant, with the CAAT. “When we first came down here we had to secure a route from Shir Ghazay to Salaam Bazaar, and before we secured it, the platoon hit multiple IED’s in two weeks. The reason we stay out there on the picket is to prevent the insurgents from laying IEDs. If we don’t keep an eye on the road, they’ll destroy our equipment and possibly get somebody hurt. It’s our job to maintain the picket; so, we keep them from doing what they do best, laying IEDs.”
Lance Cpl. Zachary Smith, a driver with the CAAT, and York, Pa., native, routinely drives a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle to the picket line to hold defense. He has personally seen multiple military trucks get blown up in the defense of the road. The road is now secured from the threat of enemy tampering, but it still holds potential threats.
“It took a couple weeks to clear this road up but there is still a threat,” Smith, a 2007 Central High School graduate, said. “A week and a half ago I was towing a blown up mine roller and I dug up an [unexploded] IED with it. There is still stuff out there but there is much less of a chance of hitting it.”
A company of Afghan National Army soldiers was recently introduced into the area to partner with 3/2.
“What we are looking to do is increase the Afghan National Security Force presence in the area, directly addressing some of the concerns by local citizens, talking about some of the things they would like to see from the government,” said McCoy. “By having this ANA company here, we will be able to facilitate greater empowerment of ANSF forces as well as facilitate future transition as the ANA becomes established and takes greater control and greater responsibility of these security routes; basically enabling and setting the ANA into a position where they will be able to sustain and provide security for these people for the long term future.”
The mission can be tedious and uneventful, but the Marines sitting in trucks and tanks 24/7 understand their purpose. Their actions allow the far-flung districts of Now Zad and Musa Qal’eh to tie into the commerce and prosperity of the rest of Northern Helmand province. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines is working to spread the word amongst the people that they may once again drive where they choose.
“It may not look like we are doing that much every day but by keeping these roads secure and keeping a constant presence, we are keeping traffic for the local citizens and the Marines within this area safe,” said McCoy.
Editor’s note: The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines is a subordinate unit of Regimental Combat Team 8 that is currently assigned to 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.
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This work, 3/2 holds Route Landy Nawa, improves travel through Helmand province, by Cpl Clayton Vonderahe, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.