SOUTHERN SHORSHORK, HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
Marines from Company L, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in partnership with the Afghanistan National Army, successfully completed their first task of establishing an observation post in support of Operation New Dawn in Southern Shorshork, Helmand province, Afghanistan, June 17.
Operation New Dawn is a joint operation between Marine Corps units and the Afghanistan National Army to disrupt enemy forces which have been using the sparsely populated region between Marjah and Nawa as a safe haven.
The men of ‘America’s Battalion’ and their ANA counterparts are responsible for establishing a defensive blocking position to deny enemy forces freedom of movement in the area.
“We’re going to be conducting patrols, vehicle checkpoints and looking at the population, making sure there aren’t people from out of the area coming in and causing harm or issues for the local people,” said Capt. Luke Pernotto, Company L commander and commander for 3/3’s ground force in Operation New Dawn. “We want to make sure enemy forces can’t be reinforced, and don’t fall back to regroup in this area. We’ve made extreme progress in Nawa, and to have it all go to waste, especially when we’re doing our last bit of clean-up in the Trek Nawa area, would be a shame.”
Following a nearly seven-hour convoy from Combat Outpost Toor Ghar, which took much longer than expected due to traveling on roads unused by coalition forces, and vehicle problems, an initial observation post was set up in a local’s compound.
During the first 48 hours of the operation, the Marines overcame obstacles to establish an observation post. While continuing to build up their defensive position, the Marines began to patrol in their new area of responsibility.
Afghan elders gathered nearby within a few hours of beginning to build up the compound, Pernotto and ANA 1st Sgt. Najibullah Bakht Beland along with fellow leadership met with them.
The compound the men moved into was located near a cemetery where local women often go to pray. The elders worried the women would no longer be able to travel to the cemetery and adamantly asked the military to move to a new position.
“We are here for Afghanistan to build up the area,” Beland, from Jalalabad, said to the elders. “We are from this country, to serve this country.”
Beland and Pernotto persuaded the elders to allow them to stay in the compound for one night, before moving further south to a position on the edge of the desert, but close enough to interact with the local populace.
“We’re essentially on the line where the desert ends and cultivation and civilization begins,” said Pernotto, from Shreveport, La. “Once the population realizes that a lot of their fears are unwarranted and we really are here to help them, that’s when we can begin to work with them and show that the government of Afghanistan, along with the partnership of the Marines, are here to help them and here to make their lives better. Yes, we had to take some land, but we took unfavorable land out in the desert to establish an operating base.”
It became evident the area the Marines and ANA now occupy hasn’t been patrolled or observed. While sweeping the observation post, Lance Cpl. Steven B. Lowe, an engineer from Headquarters Company, 3/3, discovered a buried cache of materials needed to make two pressure-plate, improvised explosive devices.
“Anytime you take away a position that the enemy uses, or you occupy a position that’s known to be frequented by the enemy, you hope to yield positive results,” Pernotto said. “Those two pressure plates could easily trigger two 200 pound IEDs. Taking those off of the battlefield, that alone, we’ve already contributed to Operation New Dawn and the overall security of this area.”
The Marines and ANA have taken their time with establishing their position and for good reason — they understand the importance of making a positive impression with the people here. The area has little electricity and few forms of distraction so the Marines have become the primary source of entertainment.
“All of our movements are watched by both those who support us and those who don’t, and that’s completely acceptable,” Pernotto said. “Even the guys that don’t like us, when they see us handling ourselves well and acting well, I think we can win over people who may originally not like us.
“I’d like to continue to build up the area and provide the security to where we can get the elders together and start discussing the issues and having partnership with the elders and the ANA as they continue to improve life around here.”