Through dust, heat, ANA lead operation to success
The people in Trek Nawa, an area between the Marjah and Nawa district, were witnesses to an unusual sight April 23-26. The Afghan National Army dispatched about 190 soldiers from various tolais within 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, to areas throughout the expanding landscape. During this maneuver, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment partnered with the kandak to clear the area during the Afghan-led Operation High Noon 15.
To reach their objectives, Afghan soldiers with their Marine counterparts often hiked through a range of open, dry, dusty ground to lush green fields in knee-high plants.
During the operation, three Afghan tolais patrolled from north to south, clearing the area, while searching for weapon caches and improvised explosive devices.
A fourth tolai supported the operation by blocking the escape routes of possible insurgents.
“The Marines’ role in the operation was a supporting one,” said ANA 1st Sgt. Mubarak, the operations first sergeant with the kandak.
A Marine platoon accompanied each tolai during the operation, providing extra firepower, and logistical support.
“Our mission was to follow and support,” said 1st. Lt. Joseph Hoeksema, a platoon commander with Weapons Co. “I helped if they needed it, but it was an ANA-led operation.”
Hoeksema’s platoon accompanied the Weapons tolai during the operation.
“(The ANA) planned the patrols, searched the houses and talked to the local people,” said 1st Lt. Qeyashkhan, the executive officer with Weapons tolai.
After several hours of clearing the northern part of the area, Qeyashkhan decided to establish a temporary patrol base in a local compound. Marines and Afghan soldiers soaked in sweat, from the intense heat of an unfiltered Afghan sun, as they set up their command center, security posts and radios. They had hiked about eight miles before they reached their resting point.
“It was really hot and we were running low on water,” said Qeyashkhan. The first priority was getting resupplied with water and food for the next couple days.
The ANA established their patrol base near a major road that provided Afghan resupply trucks easy access to the soldiers. They chose roads that their route clearing patrols could drive through. Route clearing vehicles are specially equipped trucks designed to find and clear IEDs so others can drive safely on the road.
“Some routes are too narrow to get our trucks through so we worked with the Embedded Training Team to find the routes we could go through,” said Mubarak.
The logistics of getting supplies to the patrol bases and the communication between different tolais was a focus prior to the operation.
“Operationally, they are ready to fight, ready to go out there, and I think they do a pretty good job,” said Capt. Stephen Walker, the operations advisor with the ETT.
Walker added that they also did a great job getting supplies to the troops and coordinating with each other.
On day two of the operation the tolais conducted partnered patrols with the Marines. Afghan squads, intermixed with Marines, went through the surrounding areas, talking to locals and clearing houses.
“This is an (insurgent) hotspot and we’ve been engaged by as many as 10 insurgents, found IEDs, weapons caches, you name it,” said Hoeksema, a native of Davenport, Iowa.
Marines and ANA soldiers could be seen traversing the terrain throughout the day, jumping over wadeis, an irrigation system for the field, and going from compound to compound under the blistering sun.
The patrols walked through fields, some blooming with poppy, others dried up from the heat.
Some tolais didn’t find much; however, their presence in the area was enough to scare off any insurgents.
“We didn’t find any caches or IEDs, but we talked to locals and let them know we are here for them,” said Qeyashkhan.
The cracked earth was pounded by both Marine and Afghan boots as they continued to patrol throughout the day. Other tolais had more success finding caches, IEDs and detaining a suspected insurgent leader.
“We tried to flood the area with ANA presence,” said Walker, a native of Morganton, N.C. “The patrols allowed the (ANA) to get a better feel for the area and talk to more locals.”
On the third day the tolais continued south, while still clearing the area, before returning to Patrol Base Jersey.
The landscape around PB Jersey is sparse with fields lined of cracks that go on for several miles. With the clouds providing some relief from the glowing sun, one by one the different tolais arrived at base camp along with their supporting Marines.
The kandak planned for this operation for nearly two weeks.
After three days, about 190 troops returned without a single casualty and captured a suspected insurgent leader.
As the last of the patrols arrived at PB Jersey, sweat dripping from their chin, smiles were on both Afghan and Marine faces. The operation, planned by the kandak with minimal Marine influence had run smoothly and one of the most active insurgent areas had been successfully neutralized without any losses.
“They did well,” said Hoeksema. “They planned it all and executed it accordingly.”
Article by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo, 1st Marine Division