Tuesday, October 13, 2009

OEF Update, Oct. 13, 2009: Joint Operation Disrupts Insurgents in Helmand

Dispatches from the Front
Marines with Alpha Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, board a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter Oct. 6, 2009, at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Marines loaded several helicopters to transport a force of more than 150. (Photo by Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.)

Dispatches from the Front:

SOUTHERN OASIS, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 13, 2009 -- More than 130 Marines from Alpha Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, accompanied by soldiers from the Afghan national army, conducted an operation to disrupt insurgent activity in northeastern Helmand province.

The Marines of Task Force Raider began Operation Butler in the early morning hours of Oct. 6 when they departed Camp Leatherneck in waves of CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopters.

They began clearing the Salaam Bazaar in Now Zad district upon their arrival under cover of darkness, with little enemy resistance.

"The enemy did exactly what I expected them to do," said Capt. Albert Flores, Alpha Company commander, 2nd Recon Bn. "We landed and the Taliban left right away. They did not want to face us head on because they know they can't win."

The Marines spent the remainder of day one raiding the bazaar alongside U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in search of drugs and bomb-making materials.

Their combined search resulted in the seizure and destruction of more than 2,200 kilograms of poppy seeds, more than 60 kilograms of opium, a pressure-plate IED and more than 200 pounds of fertilizer used in producing explosives.

"We succeeded in disrupting the enemy's logistics supply point for trafficking narcotics and explosive device-making materials," said 1st Lt. Brandan Finn, platoon commander, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Recon Bn. "It reduces their financial capabilities and allowed Afghan locals to see how proficient the Afghan soldiers were."

This marked the second raid of the Salaam Bazaar in recent months. The reconnaissance Marines of Task Force Raider seized and destroyed a much larger amount of drugs and IED-making materials Aug. 12 when they first visited the bazaar.

Flores said he suspected insurgents in the area were resupplying the bazaar with similar materials.

"The bazaar is a great place for people to link up and traffic narcotics, weapons and IED-making materials," Flores said. "We're here to take away their ability to conduct these criminal acts."

The Marines traveled farther south past the bazaar after destroying their finds despite the threat of repetitive indirect-fire attacks. Flores said their remaining mission in the operation was to "gain and maintain," contact with insurgents in the area.

"We chased them for days," Flores said. "They had no idea what to do."

The reconnaissance Marines faced a much higher rate of enemy resistance in the form of indirect and small-arms attacks as they steadily pushed south in the days to follow.

The Marines moved south from compound to compound, overcoming what Flores described as "effective" insurgent mortar and rocket attacks. When needed, the Marines utilized Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier jets to suppress the enemy.

He said the Marines overcame even the most dangerous of situations, one in particular being a moment when insurgent mortars were landing dangerously close to the Marines of Alpha Company's 2nd Platoon.

"The Marines went right after those guys, right out in the open," Flores explained, noting the two-kilometer distance between the Marines and the origin of insurgent mortar fire. "The enemy had no idea how to respond to that. They had no idea American Marines would react to an attack like that."

"We maintained contact with insurgents and took away a safe haven for them," Flores added. "They believed the Southern Oasis was theirs and we went right in there and took it from them."

(Report by Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.)

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