“Weapons Company recovered (5) mortar rounds, (5) RPG rounds, (10) Fuses, and (2) A-P mines and detained 8 individuals in connection with the 11 Jan attack while in the Sabari District, Khowst Province.” — Source: 3/3 Command Chronology for the Period 01 January to 30 June 2005
3/3 scores major success in Khost
Submitted by: Combined Joint Task Force – 76
Story by Cpl. Rich Mattingly
KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Feb. 26, 2005) — Under the light from a pale, yellow moon, the Marines moved swiftly across the cold and barren wadi, hand and arm signals mobilizing squads and fire teams silently into position around the village. Shifting in and out of the shadow of trees and low rock walls in the surrounding fields as they neared, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, sealed a seamless cordon and prepared to search for several men they suspected of perpetuating terrorist activity and attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces in the area.
Only when the night’s reverie was split by the blaring sounds of psychological operations’ surrender appeals and the roar of Cobra gunships appearing a few hundred feet overhead, did the inhabitants realize they had been surrounded. By the break of dawn, the Battalion was well underway to completing one of its most successful operations to date in the region.
“We moved over 44 kilometers at night, dismounted a few (kilometers) away, and surrounded the village where we believed the enemy to be hiding by moving in on foot. Our enemies had never seen anything like this before, so they weren’t ready for us and they had no chance to escape into the mountains,” explained Capt. Ken Barr, commanding officer, Weapons Co., 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, whose company planned the operation over a month and a half, gathering key human intelligence on anti-government militia forces operating in the Khost province. Over the course of two days, Weapons and Headquarters and Service Companies, who combined forces for the operation, set up shop quite literally in the suspected terrorists’ backyards. Both companies are organized as provisional rifle companies in the Battalion’s expansive area of responsibility.
The battalion was able to capture eight men believed to be members of anti-government militias and seize a significant amount of illegal weapons and explosives. And they did it without a single shot being fired.
One of Weapons Co.’s platoon commanders explained the relationship that they have tried to foster in the area over the course of the last few months that has improved their successes and ability to go in hard and fast without disrupting friendly ties.
“The local populace has begun to trust us more and more as we’ve built a relationship with them through local patrols with Afghan police and the medical and humanitarian relief efforts we’ve performed,” said 2nd Lt. Luke Lazzo, second platoon commander, Weapons Co., 3/3. “We try to stress to them that it’s their community and they have to take responsibility for the actions of those they live with. We’re here to help them with that. That allows us to go into a town the way we did and successfully find our enemies without too much resistance from the locals.”
The Marines and sailors of 3/3 are operating with a high level of cultural and societal awareness and attention to detail in order to strike a certain balance with the local populace during security and stability operations, said Barr, something he believes is a reflection of his Marines’ professionalism as they complete more complicated missions.
When Weapons Co. entered the village, the commander’s first action was to meet with the village elders and give them a chance to give up the men who were wanted in connection with the attacks.
“We went to the village elders and mullahs and asked them how they would like us to handle searches of houses in their villages,” continued Barr. “We told them that if they would give up the men responsible for attacking Marines and Afghan forces in the area, then we wouldn’t be forced to cordon and search their villages. The Marines and sailors have upheld their end of things admirably, which improves our chances of even more future successes.”
It was that approach that led to the operation’s success, said 3/3 Battalion commander Lt. Col. Norm Cooling.
“It’s easy to get on line and fight a clearly defined enemy,” said Cooling. “In our situation, you can’t always locate, close with and destroy the enemy in a straight forward manner. You have to establish human intelligence relationships to locate the enemy and then devise creative ways to close with him. While doing that here in Sabari, we sent a significant message to the villagers that by helping us they can help make their town and their country a safer place.”
The Marines of 3/3 were very successful in their searches, which were done with the supervision of the town’s elders. In the suspects’ homes they found everything from grenades shoved into sacks of flour, to weapons buried in dung heaps, and plastic explosives and blasting caps stuffed in an old car tire. One squad even recovered a belt of illegal armor-piercing AK-47 rounds hidden under an infant in a crib.
“I, for one, understand the mentality of a homeowner who doesn’t want some stranger coming into their house,” said Sgt. Chris Bloom, squad leader with Weapons Co., whose squad recovered several stockpiles of munitions from the suspected insurgents. “This is their country and we always have to be aware of that. What we did by waiting for the elders to go in with us and let them give up the guys we were after was very important to maintaining the trust of the people. We just want to take the guns and explosives away from the people who shot at us and make sure they pay for their crimes.”
“It comes down to the golden rule,” said Barr. “You have to treat others here the way you would want to be treated in their situation. This war is going to be won by the use of well-aimed, non-kinetic rounds,” he said, referring to successful information and psychological operations campaigns that win the proverbial “hearts and minds” of the populace. “You may be able to kill a lot of the bad guys with bullets, but you can also lose this war that way.”
Weapons Co. plans on following up their successful round-up of suspected terrorists with medical assistance operations in the area. America’s Battalion continues to operate throughout Eastern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Source: Combined Joint Task Force – 76