FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- Howitzers recently fired over the mountains of Kajaki, striking targets they couldn't even see. United States Marines with Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, inserted themselves into an abandoned compound under the cover of night to establish Observation Post New York. The cannons rang out in support of the insertion, eliminating enemies holding positions against the Marines.
The battery is currently supporting Operation Tofan Sharq (Eastern Storm), a major offensive operation to root out the Taliban-led insurgency in the Upper Sangin Valley region of Kajaki. The unit is working to push insurgents out of the area, ultimately increasing their ability to connect with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, moving north from Sangin, and rid the “Green Zone” along the Helmand River of insurgents.
"To put it into perspective, Kajaki is kind of split into two parts," explained 1st Lt. Daniel Ealy, an artillery officer and Moundsville, W.Va., native with the unit. "Kajaki north is called Olya, and Kajaki south is Sofla. All the insurgents are in Sofla. We went down to where the border of Oyla and Sofla are, and we set in there. We essentially blocked them off from [the north]."
The Marines are blocking off the insurgent presence along Route 611, which is a north-south route from Sangin along the Helmand River, where the U.S. Marines, Afghan National Army, and Afghan Uniformed Police maintain a commanding presence.
In this area, Route 611 is a winding, dirt road, pock-marked with craters where improvised explosive devices have detonated. It is the width of a standard two-lane street, but the only place safe to walk along the road is a narrow path of no more than two feet wide, mainly identifiable by the unmistakable path created by the heavy foot traffic moving unwaveringly down the slim path. This is a stark contrast to the Route 611 south of the Sangin Bazaar, where it is paved and includes distinctly marked lanes and even the occasional billboard.
The few civilians traveling Route 611 tend to stick to the poorly outlined path, aware of the hazards in a misplaced footstep. Civilians still occasionally travel the path, but the area is nearly completely deserted of its residents.
"The insurgents had forced everybody out of the area a long time ago," said Ealy, a 2004 West Liberty University graduate. "The only thing [citizens] were allowed to do was come up during the daytime and farm, but not stay there at night. That's one of the things we're trying to do, allow them to come back into their areas, their residences. We're doing this so they can try to start a normal life again on their properties."
The Battery E Marines met heavy resistance shortly after securing PB New York. The insurgents responded to the Marines with mortar strikes, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine gun and sniper rifle fire. The Marines swiftly responded with two High Mobility Artillery Rocket System strikes, two requests for fire support from the howitzer cannons, and an air strike.
The operation has been successful thus far for the battery.
"Everything [is going] smoothly," said Cpl. Sean Fullaway, the lead IED sweeper with the battery and Denver native. "Just by looking at it, you can tell this is a strategic location to have, and if it's strategic to us, it is strategic for the [insurgents] to have as well."
The new observation post was attacked for two consecutive days after the initial insertion of forces. The Marines and ANA soldiers worked in shifts performing a constant cycle of patrols through the area and guarding the base from potential attacks.
Suppressing the insurgent presence in the area provides the Marines and soldiers with the ability to clear the road of threats and clear a path from the Kajaki District Center to FOB Zeebrugge. This allows the Marines to work with the area’s district governor to make it safe for the local population to return to the Kajaki area.
"Our intentions are for the population’s good," said Fullaway, a McClain High School graduate. "We are trying to return their land that they rightfully own back to them and take the [insurgents] out of the area. One of the greatest moments for me was going through Sharp’s Alley."
Sharp’s Alley is a stretch of heavily vegetated land that has been used to store weapons and contraband inside abandoned compounds for use against the Marines. The stretch of land was a hot spot for insurgent activity to any Marine presence before the insertion.
The Marines are currently holding the area and blocking it from further insurgent activity while 1st Battalion clears Route 611 so it can, in time, become a safe road for travel.
For more information concerning Task Force Leatherneck operations, contact Major Bradley Gordon, Task Force Leatherneck public affairs officer at bradley.gordon@ afg.usmc.mil.
Editor’s Note: Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward)/Task Force Leatherneck. Task Force Leatherneck 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. 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, Cannons help gain territory in Operation Eastern Storm, by Cpl Clayton Vonderahe, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.