Marines fire opening salvo to retake Helmand


Afgh-USMC-Now-Zad-patrol.jpg

Marines and sailors with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, patrol the area outside Now Zad, Afghanistan, with members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Photo by Corporal Zachary Nola.

US Marines backed by Afghan forces have launched the opening salvo in an operation designed to dislodge the Taliban from central and northern Helmand province.

More than 900 US Marines, sailors and British troops, backed by 150 Afghan soldiers and police, have launched operation Cobra's Anger in the northern district of Now Zad, according to the US military. Tribal militias are also playing a role, a US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

US Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, and the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion air assaulted behind Taliban lines into the northern Now Zad Valley. Another force pushed northward from the city of Now Zad.

The district of Now Zad is considered to be under the control of the Taliban. The city of Now Zad is largely deserted and has a company of Marines and Afghan forces facing off against a dug-in Taliban force.

Four Taliban fighters have been killed in Cobra's Anger, while US and Afghan troops have discovered more than 300 roadside bombs, The Associated Press reported.

Marines put off the operation until they could confirm that additional forces would be deployed to the province to capitalize on any potential gains. President Barack Obama settled on a surge of more than 30,000 US forces, of which 9,000 Marines are heading to Helmand. NATO is expected to send more than 7,000 additional troops.

A regiment of Marines is already preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the next several weeks. "They're going to hit the ground running, they'll be pushed right out to take on the Taliban," a US Marine officer told The Long War Journal.

Cobra's Anger is the first in a series of operations designed to strangle the Taliban's support networks in northern and central Helmand. The ultimate goal is to lay siege to the town of Marja, the Taliban's main operations hub as well a major narcotics hub.

Marja is on the western side of the Helmand river, close to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Thousands of Taliban fighters are thought to have fled to Marja after the Marines launched operations in the districts of Nawa, Garmser, and Reg in southern Helmand province last summer during Operation Dagger.

"We may have to take Marja like we took Fallujah," a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The city of Fallujah in Iraq's western Anbar province was wrested from the control of al Qaeda in Iraq and allied Sunni insurgents during a two-week-long operation in November 2004.

The districts of Sangin, Washir, and Baghran are also considered under Taliban control.

"There is a Salafist community in Sangin," the official said, referring to the group of Islamists who advocate waging violent jihad. The Taliban's leadership in northern Helmand is in what the official referred to as the "Sangin pocket."

Washir and Baghran are considered less problematic, as the tribal leaders there largely sided with the Taliban out of weakness. "These are largely 'small t' Taliban," the official said. "Absent government protection, they had little choice but to side with the Taliban."

The tribes in Washir and Baghran are taxed by the Taliban and provide recruits, but do not conduct attacks. "If we can take down the Sangin pocket, then support for the Taliban in these districts will dry up."

"Sangin and Marja are key," the official said.

Another focus of the upcoming operation will be the southern Helmand town of Baramcha.

The smuggler's town of Baramcha sits on the border of Pakistan's Baluchistan province. Weapons, bomb materials, drugs, cash, and Taliban and al Qaeda fighters pass through the region. Baramcha is considered under Taliban control.



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READER COMMENTS: "Marines fire opening salvo to retake Helmand"

Posted by Minnor at December 5, 2009 3:47 AM ET:

North of Kandahar highway long needed to be secured. The hilly area is difficult to clear, but once cleared easy to hold. In a hilly area you can easily control roads.

LWJ has a good map showing taliban control in Helmand and Kandahar, need to be included in this article. http://www.longwarjournal.org/maps/Afghanistan/SE_AFGH_900-052620091.php

Posted by What? at December 5, 2009 4:58 AM ET:

I think it would be really good if we can find an area to go on the offensive. I hope the Taliban stands up and fights. We will lose a few great men, but they will get humiliated and annihilated yet again.

Posted by i_c_that at December 5, 2009 6:48 AM ET:

"The city of Fallujah in Iraq's western Anbar province was wrested from the control of al Qaeda in Iraq and allied Sunni insurgents during a two-week-long operation in November 2008."

Guess you meant 2004 ;-)

Posted by Bill Dames at December 5, 2009 7:28 AM ET:

They have the battle of Fallujah taking place in Nov 2008. I took place several years earlier. I think Aprill 2004

Posted by tyrone at December 5, 2009 8:32 AM ET:

Great information. Gives a sense of the strategy for the area without saying anything that would be a surprise to the enemy. Thanks for the excellent reporting.

Posted by Bill Roggio at December 5, 2009 8:34 AM ET:

That is correct, the Second battle of Fallujah was indeed November 2008.Fixed. Please don't ask how I made that mistake, because I have no idea. Thanks for the heads up, i_c_that.

Posted by Alex at December 5, 2009 3:33 PM ET:

I think it would be really interesting to get an update on the Afghan OOB. There is still a lot of work to be done in that regard, namely in literacy.

Posted by Alex at December 5, 2009 3:56 PM ET:

I just got done reading No True Glory and The Strongest Tribe, and I hope that the Marines do NOT take territory like they took Fallujah. By that I mean I hope that when a fight goes down, the field commanders, CENTCOM, DoD, State Dept., and the Afghan gov't are on the same page this time. There shouldn't have even been a Second Battle of Fallujah; the first one would have been enough if it wasn't for that brazen cease-fire and the worse than useless Iraqi Fallujah Brigade.

Posted by KW64 at December 5, 2009 9:09 PM ET:

I am glad to see there are tribal militias coming along. Our payments and supplies to tribal leaders in 2001 bore fruit as they have more local influence than the central government. Still, one should bear in mind that once they put their lives on the line with us we do indeed owe it to them to stick by them longer than 18 months.

Posted by Rhyno327 at December 6, 2009 1:12 PM ET:

a-stan has never had a strong central gov. this has to be done 1 tribe at a time, yes, dollars will buy loyalty there. as for fallujah, i hope our guys never have to go through that kinda situation again..but the way marja is described, well, they must really be dug in. relieved to see line charges being used, its a great tool-and a weapon. go get 'em devil dogs..!!

Posted by Tom Burdick at December 6, 2009 4:26 PM ET:

It is the 1st MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) our of Camp Pendleton that is heading for Afghanistan on a deployment scheduled since July. Hard to understand why they are characterized as part of the "Surge".

Posted by Civy at December 6, 2009 4:30 PM ET:

"Thousands of Taliban fighters are thought to have fled to Marja after the Marines launched operations in the districts of Nawa, Garmser, and Reg in southern Helmand province last summer during Operation Dagger."

This is how fighting with too few combatants really hurts you. Especially with insurgent or guerrilla warfare, the enemy should never be allowed to break contact. The first 15 minutes are greatly to their advantage, the rest of the engagement to yours. You have to make the most of those opportunities.

Whether fighting too heavy so you are slow and have few independently deployable units, which uses manpower poorly, or are just under-manned even while making the most of each man, not annihilating your enemy when they chose to give battle drags insurgences out for decades.

I'm relieved the USMC was chosen for this task. They've understood this for most of their existence. If the 82nd Airborne had done their jobs, the Marines wouldn't have had to take Fallujah BACK from anyone. It would have been in our control from day 1.


Posted by My2Cents at December 7, 2009 1:34 AM ET:

I am concerned about how the ROE might effect the ability of the Marines to effectively pursue and kill or capture al-Qaeda and the Taliban. If we cannot do that, then this will just be an exercize in punching smoke.

Posted by captainjohann at December 7, 2009 1:55 AM ET:

The key is the local Governor of Helmand who is considered by Karzai as an ISI asset.Karzai wants to remove him while USA support him.

Posted by Render at December 7, 2009 8:05 PM ET:

Now Zad - again.

It's a ghost town and pretty much a free-fire zone.

The keys are strength and placement of the blocking forces together with accuracy and weight of air/fire support.

LITTLE
ELSE,
R

Posted by ahsan at December 8, 2009 7:21 AM ET:

ISAF shold arm the Hazras and the shias of Parachinar. Both are frocious fighters and natural enemy of Talibans.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at December 8, 2009 8:50 PM ET:

Any more details on the role Tribal militias are playing?

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at December 12, 2009 7:29 PM ET:

There is an Afghan Territorial Force in Helmand that is highly regarded and in great demand, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at December 12, 2009 7:33 PM ET:

More on the ATF:

Special forces troops open up new front against the Taliban in Helmand

Posted by Romesh Bhattacharji at May 10, 2010 1:46 AM ET:

Baramcha is not in Helamand. It is in Nimroz province adjacent to Helmand. It is controlled by the Baluchis. They have a business relationshi[ with the Taleban about getting opium and trafficking heroin. Nothing more. The Taleban does not control Baramcha.