Sangin, Afghanistan – Four weeks ago everything changed here. Where Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, of Camp Pendleton, Calif., had once tread cautiously and without serious incident, suddenly became a minefield.
Dormant hidden bombs began exploding underfoot and gunfights erupted following the poppy and wheat harvests.
The battalion arrived in Sangin in late April just before the so-called spring offensive, where the Taliban begin fighting the Americans. It was quiet, but now it’s anything but and it is expected to continue throughout the summer.
The security situation is better than it was a year ago, but there is a ways to go before it can be considered tamed.
“We’ve only been here since last summer,” said 1/5 commander Lt. Col. Tom Savage, referring to the two units that fought here before them – 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and later 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, the unit replaced by 1/5.
“About a month ago,” he said, “kinetics picked up, activity is up, there are a lot of gunfights.”
There are also a lot of improvised explosive devices, thousands, he said.
Most of the more than 100 wounds suffered by 1/5 Marines and Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines which is attached, have been from IEDs.
The battalion lost 11 Marines in its first 81 days in country.
“First of all, they’re Marines,” Savage said of how he keeps the grunts going when things are rough all around. “I talk to them a lot, I walk with them after they’ve had casualties. The best thing is get them right back out.”