Marine tanks, special operators raid northern Helmand

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Marines in an M1A1 tank scout a field in Zamindawar, Afghanistan, after taking gunfire Oct. 21 during Operation Helmand Viper. (Photo by Cpl. Mark Garcia)

The Marine Corps may have drawn down its forces in Afghanistan to less than 7,000 personnel this year, but they continue to run daring operations with the elite troops they have left.

One of the latest examples is Operation Helmand Viper, a muscular effort to strike Taliban fighters in Zamindawar, a violent region between Musa Qala and Kajaki districts that we’ve covered several times on Battle Rattle this year.

As this new Marine Corps news release points out, tanks with Bravo Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., rolled in support of special operators Oct. 19 to 27, striking multiple targets.

The objective was to “disrupt the insurgent activities in the area to give the Afghan National Security Forces room to operate this winter,” said Capt. Matthew Dowden, Bravo Company’s commander, in the release. “We provided the sustainment and firepower they needed to go through some of the areas they were going to be in and have that staying power they might not typically have.”

The release does not describe the composition of the special operations force involved, but it seems likely it included both Afghan commandos and coalition forces.

It’s clear that Zamindawar is one of those areas of Afghanistan that the U.S. will never truly clear of enemy activity given the amount of troops they currently have. As I pointed out in a story this spring while embedded nearby in Helmand’s Kajaki district, it seems more likely U.S. forces will continue to monitor the area, gather intelligence and launch occasional forceful operations like Helmand Viper to keep the insurgency guessing.

One example: In May, Marine forces launched another mission, Operation Jaws, killing at least 50 insurgents in and around Zamindawar in the process, Marine officials said at the time.

Since then, however, the Taliban strengthened in northern Helmand after Afghan National Security Forces were put in the lead this summer. Numerous Marine grunts who served in Kajaki — which borders Zamindawar — in August and September told me many of those Taliban gains occurred near Zamindawar.

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About Author

I’m a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

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