News: Marine aviation key to major offensive in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - Under the veil of darkness, a team of Marine Corps CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters sped over the Helmand River valley in early October.
Carrying nearly 100 Afghan commandos and their Marine advisers, the helicopters delivered them into the valley, just south of the Kajaki Dam.
The Afghan and American troops were the first coalition forces in a massive offensive, Operation Eastern Storm, aimed at rooting out one of the last insurgent strongholds in the region.
As the southwestern regional command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force undertakes Operation Eastern Storm, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) has provided invaluable support in the coalition’s efforts to secure Afghanistan’s Route 611 and ensure peace and economic development in the region.
“Our big support for Eastern Storm was getting [1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment] into position,” said Lt. Col. Robert B. Finneran, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)’s future operations officer and a native of Cape Carteret, N.C. “The threat level going into this was unknown.”
But coalition forces have been met with little confrontation, Finneran said.
“I think the fact that we were able to get in with relatively little resistance and establish patrol bases is only going to lead to positive relations with the local populace,” Finneran said.
After the initial insertion of the Afghan commandos and Marine Corps ground troops, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)’s role has entailed providing resupplies and close-air support missions.
Finneran said much of the wing’s operations in support for Eastern Storm now comes from AV-8B Harrier attack jets, and UH-1Y Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters watching overhead.
“We’ve been able to fly and support in any way [the ground combat element has] asked up to this point,” Finneran said. “The Wing’s flexibility to meet the challenges of the ground combat element has been key. We had a very well-synchronized aviation plan.”
Capt. Joseph Fry, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, recently flew one such mission.
Fry, a native of Jacksonville, Ill., said that over the summer he had flown a few missions into the area on which Operation Eastern Storm is focused, and witnessed a relatively heavy amount of combat, but “the ground presence wasn’t really there yet.”
“Almost overnight, the valley turned into a string of Marine-controlled outposts,” said Fry, adding that his recent mission was completely uneventful.