MARJAH, Afghanistan --
Engines roaring, a massive convoy charged toward Sistani, a region in Marjah notorious for remnant Taliban fighters who harass the local population.
The enemy got the message. Without any resistance, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment cleared the area, Oct. 21. They set up a 360-degree security while Marine engineers converted an abandoned bazaar into a fully-operational outpost.
After setting security and beginning construction, the unit launched into the counter-insurgency operation.
Marine squads, partnered with the Afghan National Army, swept across the surrounding farmland and engaged the local populace one compound at a time.
Local villagers in the area embraced the Marines, welcoming them into their homes and allowing them to search for weapons, bomb-making materials, contraband and Taliban propaganda.
“It was ANA led on all the searches of the compounds,” explained 1st Lt. Jason M. Quinn, battlefield commander during the operation. “There were no forced entries and the operation was strictly non-kinetic. We used soft knocks to try and get invited in. We searched the compounds with the families and invited them up to a security shura we were hosting to let them know what was going on.”
At a nearby location, key Marine leaders addressed the locals concerns.
“We discussed the patrol base we were building and how it would affect them, their crops, and improve security as well,” said Quinn. “They all understood it and they all agreed on why we were searching their compounds. The outcome and the number of local nationals who got involved in the area is the most we have ever seen. The atmospherics were very, very positive.”
Throughout the day, Marine engineers constructed walls, guard posts and vehicle entry points. The abandoned bazaar began to take the form of fully-operational patrol base.
Sgt. Michael E. White, the lead combat engineer with 2/9 during the construction in Sistani, said every Marine lent a helping hand, contributing to one of the fastest builds he has seen here.
Cpl. Phillip J. Hargrave, a combat engineer attached to 2/9, expanded on White’s comments and talked about how smoothly things went for his team.
“We executed everything very efficiently, productively and progressed in a timely manner,” said Hargrave. “By the time we were on site and started, we completed our task within 14 hours.”
By the end of the operation, children were seen running up to Marines who were handing out candy and toys in an area that was virtually a ghost town due to enemy activity weeks prior.
“There is a lot of Taliban in that area, which a lot of elders and families fear,” said White. “Based on what I know, the patrol base is going to provide the needed security to local nationals there, hopefully allowing the families and children to move more freely and attend schools. It should allow elders the opportunity to be involved in more shuras and key leader engagements in hopes of putting the Taliban on the move.”
With as many moving parts as the operation had, Quinn said the outcome was phenomenal -- a result he attributed to quality planning, good timing and excellent cooperation shown by the locals. Quinn said the operation ran more smoothly than anyone anticipated, especially based on the amount of enemy resistance they have encountered there before.
“Everybody that participated brought something special, some unique characteristic and combat-multiplier to the mission,” said Quinn. “Everybody, from the female engagement team all the way to our non-kinetic fire teams, had something to offer.
For 2/9, Operation Sistani had added meaning. Not only does it disrupt terrorist activity in the region, it’s a reminder of the sacrifices made by men of the battalion. Dubbed Patrol Base Zaehringer, it’s a tribute to the late Sgt. Frank R. Zaehringer, an assaultman with Weapons Company. Zaehringer made the ultimate sacrifice, Oct. 11, while conducting combat operations in Northern Marjah.
“It’s hard work out there, and everyone came together,” said White. “Every Marine, regardless of MOS or rank, was in there, participating and making that place strong and stout just like the Marine he was.”
In Sistani, smiling children and merchants slowly return to the streets once inhabited by the ghosts of Taliban oppression.