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    'Walking Dead' passes torch to 'The Ready Battalion' in Nawa



    Story by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez 

    I Marine Expeditionary Force

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand province, Afghanistan – The people of Nawa have seen a clear difference since the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, first arrived in their district.

    It’s almost like night and day.

    Afghan National Security Forces have taken the lead in security efforts, while the Marines have shifted their focus to mentoring, and providing overwatch support for their Afghan counterparts.

    Key roads link once isolated villages, connecting the populace and increasing opportunities for commerce, education and infrastructure development.

    After taking the reigns of the district, leaders of the “Walking Dead” decided that in order to achieve victory and transition authority to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, they needed to fight the weakened insurgency on two fronts.

    “It was almost like running two different battalions,” said Sgt. Maj. Patrick Tracy, the 1/9 sergeant major. “In the green zone we focused on mentoring and partnering while we pushed out to Trek Nawa where it was more kinetic.”

    The Green Zone

    Due to the efforts of Afghan and coalition forces before them, the “Walking Dead” found a stable security environment in the green zone. This area near the Helmand River is home to most of the district’s population, agriculture and major centers of commerce.

    “The security was good,” said Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski, 1/9 commanding officer. “What really needed a push was the governance [effort] and ANSF’s ability to provide security.”

    The mission in the green zone was two-fold: shift the security efforts from the control of the Afghan National Army to the hands of Afghan Local Police, while improving governance and developing infrastructure.

    “We set out to improve the police capacity in the green zone so that the ANA can get away from the policing functions and focus their force on the desert region,” Zagurski explains.

    “One of our greater accomplishments would be the police primacy,” explains Tracy. “We’ve established defined districts and checkpoints. It’s more of a Western style of policing, similar to what someone would see in America.”

    “We set out to partner very closely with the DST [District Stability Team],” said Zagurski, a native of Mercer Island, Wash. “Improving governance and focusing key project developments that linked to sustainable capacity for Nawa.”

    As the ANA forces moved west into the desert, ALP forces took charge of the security effort local villages.

    “We realized that in order for us to get the people ready for transition, we needed to be less obtrusive,” explained Tracy. “There needed to be less of us there, less of us being in charge and putting [Afghan forces] more in the lead.”

    The battalion’s strategy provided a unique logistical challenge; they had to demilitarize numerous patrol bases, shift forces to the desert region on the outskirts of the district and build new Marine advisory teams to support the Afghan police forces now patrolling the green zone.

    “We created what we called enhanced advisory teams” said Zagurski. “They were attached to the most important levels of ANSF command and control: the police precincts and the ‘tolay,’ or company, for the ANA.”

    The teams started to work off common training objectives. The battalion used the team’s reports to pinpoint what their counterparts needed to improve, in order to better accomplish their mission of protecting the people.

    The battalion also established an Afghan Local Police training program for local ‘watons,’ or villages, funded by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. This program recruited local men from each village, with a goal of producing patrolmen with an inherent knowledge of the area and population they protect.

    “We trained them all here,” said Tracy. “They’re stationed throughout their own watons and they’re working hand-in-hand with the other forces.”

    “We needed to build the capacity of their policemen so that they can patrol and increase their relationship with the people,” Zagurski added.

    The Marines encouraged the program, pushing for local elders and leaders of the local police forces to maintain a good relationship, vital to the success of the partnership.

    “We instituted local shuras between the village elders and their local police commanders so that they could talk about issues at the local level,” Zagurski said.

    “Afghan Local Police training is going very well – they can get the job done, and they can easily identify an enemy in the area,” said Haji Abdul Manaf, the Nawa district governor. “They work well together with the other security forces, and they are dedicated to bring peace and prosperity to Nawa.”

    With security in place, GIRoA, aided by coalition forces, has begun making improvements throughout the district. A new health clinic in Aynak is underway, and the construction of a new road from Nawa to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah will be key in opening lines of commerce to the other districts in Helmand province.

    “We needed to build key roads so that people can travel to markets, get linked to their police precincts and so that government officials can travel to their security shuras,” Zagurski added.

    One key piece to the “Walking Dead’s” success was their decision to deliberately thin out forces within the green zone. Over their seven months serving in Nawa, the battalion gradually decreased Marine positions in the green zone.

    Upon their arrival, the green zone was secured with 25 combat outposts and patrol bases. At the time of the battalion’s transfer of authority ceremony with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, here, Dec. 18, only 10 positions remain.

    Trek Nawa

    “It was almost like running two different battalions,” explains Tracy. “We had one company in the green zone and we spread out the rest in the desert.”

    While developing security and governance in the green zone, the battalion focused counterinsurgency efforts on the previously unoccupied desert region of Trek Nawa.

    “We made a conscious choice to move the bulk of the battalion to the desert regions,” Zagurski said.

    Through partnered operations with Afghan security forces, The “Walking Dead” continued to deny insurgents freedom of movement in previously unoccupied regions of Nawa. The battalion pushed out of the green zone, disrupting insurgent activity to the west in Trek Nawa and in the southern desert region of Shorshorak.

    “We decided that rather than fight the enemy on his terms, he’s going to fight on our terms,” Tracy said. “We brought the fight to where the enemy trains, eats and sleeps.”

    Since 1/9 and Afghan forces in Nawa shifted their efforts to the area outside of the green zone, half of the insurgent leadership in the area have been removed from the battlefield. With ANSF forces in the lead, the partnered forces will continue to push through previously ungoverned areas to bring peace and stability to the region.

    “I think our biggest contribution to the people of Nawa is their confidence with their own security forces,” said Tracy. “I think the people honestly believe that their own security forces can bring peace and prosperity.

    On the cusp of transition

    In celebration of the improvements in security and governance of Nawa during their deployment, the battalion set out on a hike across the district with their Afghan counterparts in early November.

    The Nawa Victory Walk joined Afghan Lt. Col. Gul Ahmad, commanding officer of 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, and Zagurski, in a patrol across the district to speak with local residents and key leaders, discussing future challenges and celebrating successes along the way. Participants in the partnered patrol trekked approximately 30 miles in four days.

    During the patrol, Zagurski met with Haji Janan, a local elder in the Haynak area of the district. Janan expressed the importance of security for Nawa, during the meeting.

    “Security is our first priority,” said Janan. “When the Marines leave, I think it will be fine, because now it's the locals against the [insurgents] too.”

    As the Marines begin to take a step back, GIRoA is quickly filling the gap and increasing its capability to provide basic services to meet the needs of Nawa citizens. Similarly, villagers are learning to trust in their government officials and the support the Afghan government can provide.

    “We are looking toward a bright future, and I’m sure we will get there with the help of the coalition forces and the Marine forces,” said Manaf. “We are always looking for better security and more progress.”

    The district stands right on the cusp of transition, according to Zagurski. Due to its progress in security, governance and infrastructure development, Nawa is scheduled to be the first district to transition full security responsibility to Afghan security forces and the Afghan government in southern Helmand.

    “Nawa has a bright future,” said Zagurski. “They have a fully functioning government.”

    “They have a justice center, they have a budget that they execute through their own planning, and they have a sufficient security force that can provide security with our continued mentorship and support,” Zagurski explains.

    “The Ready Battalion”, the nickname of 2/6, will need to maintain that mentorship and support to ensure continued progress for their Afghan counterparts. Building on the momentum of the “Walking Dead” and Afghan forces in the district, 2/6 will continue to disrupt insurgent activity in the ungoverned areas surrounding the green zone.

    As they head home for the holidays, the Marines and sailors of 1/9 will hold their heads high, knowing how far Nawa has come during their watch.

    “Our battalion didn’t have to clear Nawa, we had to build and hold it,” explains Tracy. “Because of everyone else’s hard work, we got to be the battalion to turn it over to the Afghan people. That is our legacy in Nawa.”

    Editor’s note: First Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment successfully transferred authority of coalition forces in Nawa district with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 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 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.



    Date Taken: 12.18.2011
    Date Posted: 12.20.2011 08:47
    Story ID: 81601

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