As moments in Afghanistan went, they were some of the eeriest ones I experienced.
On May 10 and 11, I went out on back-to-back evening patrols with members of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines from Combat Outpost Yazzie in northwest Marjah. The material gathered those nights formed a large part of the basis for this magazine story in Marine Corps Times, showing the dangers Marine faces in the former Taliban stronghold, where ambushes with sniper rifles and 7.62mm machine guns are common.
With the sun setting on the horizon, the Marines climbed to a ridge overlooking Marjah from the west both nights. It’s a picturesque place, but one near an Afghan graveyard used repeatedly by insurgents this spring to ambush Marines in the valley below. Commonly, a group of two to four gunmen on motorcycles would zoom in from the Sistani Desert and Sistani Penninsula to Marjah’s west, then open fire. Marines vented about it frequently, clearly frustrated that they couldn’t be everywhere at once in their area of operations.
It was those Marines that I thought of last month when Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman told me in an interview that 1st Reconnaissance Battalion would be used in a somewhat unconventional manner to root out insurgents in areas surrounding Marjah. I was already far from Marjah at the time, but I imagine the news had to have been greeted with cheers by members of 3/6.
It was also those Marines I thought of today, when a Marine spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that 1st Recon has begun its initial operation to flush the Taliban out of the countryside surrounding Marjah. It isn’t clear how many parts of the countryside the Marines have hit so far, but they will be “attacking areas that insurgents use in transit to and from Marjah,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Benson, a spokesman for 1st Marine Division (Forward), based at Camp Leatherneck.
The only Marine Corps accounts so far suggest that the operation — dubbed New Dawn — has focused so far on areas east of Marjah, which also have been plagued by violent problems, including an influx of foreign fighters. Third Battalion, 3rd Marines, currently based in Nawa, has assisted, setting up observation posts and blocking positions while also searching farm compounds.
There has been no word yet that the Sistani Desert has been addressed, but if it hasn’t it certainly would appear to be coming.
When it happens, Marines in that valley below the ridge will hopefully have one thing less to worry about.