MUSA QALA DISTRICT, Afghanistan – As the Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Division, loaded into their vehicles, Staff Sgt. Sourinha Phakousonh looked around at what was left of Forward Operating Base Musa Qala for the last time.
Phakousonh had lived at the base for three months, providing base security and ensuring the base was running efficiently.
Leaving Musa Qala was bittersweet for Phakousonh and the rest of the Marines, marking the end of an era for both them and the Marine Corps.
The beginning of insurgency in Musa Qala
In 2006, Taliban fighters attacked local government officials within the district, resulting in the assassinations of Musa Qala’s District Chief Abdul Quddus and Sangin’s District Governor Amir Jan.
British soldiers were immediately deployed to the region to defend the district offices at Musa Qala, Sangin, and Kajaki. Intense fighting continued within the district and the British soldiers sustained heavy casualties.
In late 2006, British troops withdrew from Musa Qala and insurgents overthrew the local government. Army Gen. Dan McNeil later took command of International Security Assistance Force and decided to conduct an offensive operation in Musa Qala.
In 2008, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, deployed to the district in an effort to seize the town and train the local Afghan National Police. The Marine Corps has since continuously deployed units to the base.
Musa Qala today
According to Phakousonh, the atmosphere of Musa Qala has changed dramatically from when Marines first arrived.
Phakousonh said the insurgents terrorized many of the locals when they controlled the district, forcing many residents to flee for their lives. However, he said today many of the locals have returned and the district is flourishing.
“They are doing incredibly well and the bazaar [market place] is functioning at a high efficiency,” said Phakousonh, a 38-year-old infantry platoon sergeant from Shelton, Conn. “When we go out on patrols, the streets are always busy with people selling and buying goods in the bazaar.”
There are approximately 200 shops open in the district center selling items from common household goods to motorized vehicles.
The Marines do not take full credit for the transformation, though. The strength of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are thought key to this improvement.
The Afghan National Security Forces have improved drastically, said Capt. Matthew Speers, the commanding officer for India Co.
Speers, a native of Lansdowne, Penn., believes the ANA and ANP forces have progressively improved and are prepared to maintain security within the district.
Although Musa Qala is relatively peaceful, insurgents continue to threaten the security and stability of the district.
The insurgents are still trying to take back their old stronghold, said Phakousonh.
The ANA and AUP have been in several firefights on the outskirts of the city and are under constant threat from improvised explosive devices; however, the security forces continue to dispel the insurgents and prevent them from entering the city.
“I think these guys are very capable of continuing to hold this place when we leave,” said Phakousonh.