As embattled district cools, battalion moves north
A battalion of Marines left Marjah District today, signaling coalition force’s growing confidence in Marjah’s Afghan National Security Forces.
Two Marine battalions had been operating in Marjah, a district that was considered one of the worst in Helmand 18 months ago. Even after coalition forces gained control of the district center during Operation Moshtarak last February, fierce firefights continued into the winter months, leading some observers to conclude that progress there could be easily reversed.
However, violence in the former insurgent stronghold gradually decreased as persistent partnered patrols steadily pushed insurgents to the fringes of the district. Infrastructural developments, such as schools, refurbished mosques, and police stations, arose in the insurgents’ wake, and spring never quite sprung for insurgents who were supposedly hibernating through the winter months.
The improved conditions enabled International Security Assistance Force to shift 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment northward. Ironically, 1/6 was one of the battalions that participated in Operation Moshtarak last year. Cpl. James Clark, a 1/6 correspondent and veteran of the pivotal battle, wrote about the obvious changes that have occurred since, in “1/6 returns to Marjah,” published on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website, Aug. 4.
“Today, Marines and sailors with 1/6 walk through streets and down alleyways once littered with spent shell casings,” wrote Clark. “They greet local citizens, whose faces they have come to recognize from frequent meetings nearly a year ago. Children are now more likely to give thumbs up or wave to passing patrols than throw rocks, and the local residents no longer retreat indoors when Marine patrols pass them.”
Capt. Paul J. Kasich, the ranking Marine who trains Afghan National Police in Marjah, attributed much of the improvement to the emergence of the district’s Afghan Local Police.
Kasich, the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment Police Mentoring Team commander, explained that Marjah’s ALP is succeeding because its structure conforms to that of the local culture. In Pashto-dominated Helmand province, villages consist of single or closely allied clans, which are the strongest elements of Pashtun society. Local Marjah police patrol their native villages, where they are seen as public servants with a personal stake in their community’s welfare, and where they know the good guys from the bad, explained Kasich, a native of Monroe, Conn.
Meanwhile, 3/6 Marines and their Afghan National Army counterparts are expanding district security. The partnered forces established new checkpoints and patrol bases in Trek Nawa, a relatively desolate region between the Nawa and Marjah Districts, during Operation Harvest Moon, which took place throughout May.
With Marjah’s security bubble expanding, the police force continues to expand its presence within the district.
In fact, Col. Kenneth J. Desimone said Afghan National Police success isn’t confined to the district; across the province, ANP officers are making significant strides despite continuing challenges. Although the ANP still has work ahead by western standards -- especially in the areas of administration, logistics, and general literacy -- the ANP is getting closer to the Afghan citizens’ standards, said Desimone, the Provincial Police Advisory Team commander with 2nd Marine Division (Forward).
Desimone cited a June survey as an example of ANP improvements. The survey sampled the opinions of 62 residents throughout Nawa, a district just east of Marjah that exhibited a dismal view of ANP in a December survey. According to the June data, 73 percent of respondents exhibited degrees of trust in the ANP – up from only 3 percent in December.
One of the survey’s takeaways, according to Desimone, is that standards of police work vary from place to place.
“The standards vary even in the U.S., and what the Afghans are looking for doesn’t necessarily have to get to the standards of the U.S.,” said Desimone, a reservist who works as the deputy police chief in Sandy Springs, a township in the greater Atlanta area.
Nevertheless, ANP and Marine leaders here are collaborating closely to provide better training and equipment to Afghan police throughout Southern Helmand, said Lt. Col. Mark Horowitz, the Regimental Combat Team 1 ANSF Cell commander. Horowitz noted ANP Gen. Angar’s appearance at the RCT-1 Commander’s Conference last month -- the first time the Helmand provincial chief of police has met with Col. David Furness, the RCT-1 commander.
During the meeting, which included the district chiefs of police from Marjah, Nawa and Garmsir, Angar enthusiastically engaged conference participants on a range of topics, including training, equipment and manpower, said Horowitz. He said Angar committed to filling all local ANP tashkiels, the Afghan term for personnel and equipment requirements. Horowitz added that all conference participants seemed to leave the meeting with increased optimism regarding the future of local ANP forces.
Meanwhile, with daily temperatures soaring above 120 degrees in Southern Helmand, violence remains at a level most citizens here associate with the winter lull.
Article by Sgt. Jesse Stence, Regimental Combat Team 1