MARJAH, Afghanistan --
Nearly one year ago, Marjah was the scene of some of the deadliest fighting since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. Now, after the persistence of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, the area is lauded as proof that counterinsurgency operations can work.
Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, visited 2/9 in December and compared the battalion’s success to the victories in Fallujah and Ramadi.
“You have snow-plowed the enemy out of the northern part of Marjah!” said Amos, quoting Maj.Gen. Richard Mills, the commanding general of Regional Command Southwest.
When 2/9 replaced 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Lt. Col. James R. Fullwood, commanding officer for 2/9, gave his word to the people of Marjah. He said his Marines would stand up to all opposition to peace and prosperity for the Afghan people.
As months passed, the once empty streets of northern Marjah became full of life again. Officials said clearing operations were vanquishing the Taliban and interdicting their logistical routes. The Marines were having an effect on the enemy and locals noticed the change. School attendance skyrocketed and people went back to work, something locals said they thought would never happen.
The battalion spent countless hours on the battlefield, fighting against the insurgents for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, whose perception of coalition forces was tarnished by years Taliban propaganda.
In the first months of their deployment, 2/9 undertook the task of reconfiguring their battle space and redistributing troops to increase security and push insurgents out of the area. In addition to the construction of numerous patrol bases and vehicle checkpoints, the unit increased the frequency and distance of their patrols.
According to 2/9, the redistribution and construction projects worked. The number of direct fire and improvised explosive device attacks dropped 75 percent from the time they arrived. The attacks remain comparatively low, allowing further and faster progress in the region – progress that spans governance, infrastructural development, and reconstruction in the area.
Marines with 2/9 began to collect census data from the locals. During this process, the battalion demonstrated that they were there to help – not occupy the region -- by refurbishing mosques and building new public schools, wells and clinics.
The unit tackled issues like the growth of opium and hosted an anti-drug summit, which was the largest in Marjah’s history. The summit resulted in a unified plan for all farmers in the region to halt the growth of illicit plants. The agreement was a huge step for Afghan government officials, who attributed nearly all problems in the area to the illicit drug trade.
The battalion partnered with the local government and began distributing vegetable and wheat seeds to thousands of farmers in the area. The seed and fertilizer drive allowed farmers to give up the growth of illegal crops and still maintain a livelihood.
The influence of 2/9 extended beyond Marjah. In December 2010, Echo Company, 2/9 was ordered to support combat operations with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, in Sangin, Helmand province. Through a month and half of operations in Sangin, Echo Company carried on the battalion’s legacy in what Mills’ described, in the Jan. 25 issue of the Los Angeles Times, as the last major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.
Throughout the deployment, 2/9 had 15 of its brothers give the ultimate sacrifice. These Marines left a lasting legacy that will reside in the minds of every Marine and sailor in the battalion, Fullwood said.
As 2/9 prepares to reunite with loved ones back home, 2/8, a fellow battalion from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., looks to carry on their tradition in northern Marjah.