MARJAH, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers with 2nd platoon, 1st Tolai, 3rd Kandak, partnered with Afghan Local Police patrolmen to execute the first Afghan-only patrol in eastern Marjah.
“This is the first week where they’ve done everything on their own,” said Snohomish, Wash., native 1st Lt. Douglas L. Price, a platoon commander with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “They have done vehicle checks, searches and cordons without any problems. Their land [navigation] is spot-on, and they are demonstrating advanced patrolling techniques. So far they are doing really well.”
The soldiers gathered in the early morning hours to go over the patrol’s mission one final time: a squad of eight to 10 ANA soldiers would join eight ALP patrolmen and move through compounds, gather intelligence from residents, search for illegal weapons and confiscate smuggled drugs. Only two Marines would accompany the squad to help facilitate communications between the Afghans and the Combat Operations Center at the unit’s outpost – Afghan National Security Forces would be responsible for all aspects of the patrol.
“In my mind, this is a necessary process for the increasing of security,” said ANA Staff Sgt. Aliabass, the platoon commander for 2nd platoon. “We must work with the people correctly, and they will join with us in the future. If we behave badly, the people will side with the insurgency; if we behave correctly and we have a good relationship with the people, it can help us increase security.”
The soldiers reached the compounds just after 6 a.m. and met with the ALP. Neither unit had searched the area before, but intelligence insisted there may be weapons in the area. They stayed alert, ready for anything, and together they entered the first compound cautiously, posting security with eyes out for danger. It wasn’t long before they confiscated 10 pounds of heroin and an AK-47 – the owner was also quickly detained and held for questioning.
The sun beat down relentlessly on the Afghan soldiers and policemen throughout the patrol. Neither group had eaten that day, in accordance with the required fasting of Ramadan, yet they kept moving from compound to compound, following through with the mission. The accompanying Marines never needed to intervene; they simply followed quietly.
“It is a testament to the Marines’ hard work to get [the ANA] to the level they need to be to take care of this area on their own,” said Pottsville, Pa., native 1st Lt. Kevin Shipton, the information operations officer for India Company. “It shows a willingness to learn and adaptability from the ANA. They realize this is their country and that we aren’t going to be here [forever].”
Local children gathered around the soldiers and policemen as they moved from home to home, hoping for pieces of candy. Their inquisitive stares turned to smiles and laughter when the Marines came into view and most were content with running around, giggling at how funny the body armor made everyone look.
The security forces finished their investigations with the sun at its highest point in the sky, but the day was far from over. A two-and-a-half hour patrol back to the outpost lay ahead of them, but before leaving the area, Commander Farooqu, the local ALP leader, invited them all to take a moment and talk about how their first patrol had turned out.
“We had a successful patrol today; my men are conditioned very well and we had a lot of achievement,” said Aliabass. “We planned this patrol a few days ago, so it was very successful. The ALP did their job well and we worked well together.”
The accomplishment was a step forward for ANSF and a defining moment for the ANA in Eastern Marjah. The learning process is always ongoing, but the ANA soldiers are fast learners.
“We will continue to mentor and train them, getting them to the level where they need to be,” said Shipton, a 2008 Texas Christian University graduate. “As they continue to progress, they will get more responsibility. They are starting to get to the level where they can take care of things on their own, and I see them getting to the point where they have their own battle space and are operating independently of us. If they need support, they can give us a call; and if we need support, we can call them.”
The patrol ended once all the soldiers and Marines retuned to the outpost, but the soldiers of 2nd Platoon went back to the drawing board that evening, planning the next day’s patrol.
“They are doing a fantastic job; they didn’t need my help,” said Price, a 2009 Central Washington University graduate and one of the Marines accompanying the patrol. “They handled the search procedures, dealt with detainees, worked with local leaders and interacted on their own. They need a little help with communication and gear, but where they are now, they are ready to do what they need to do.”
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 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.
This work, Afghans execute first solo patrol in eastern Marjah, by Sgt Jeff Drew, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.