PATROL BASE BOLDAK, Afghanistan --
It’s an hour before sunrise and the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, actively search through the littered debris scattered across the floor of the abandoned house. The golden hues from their flashlights filter through the rooms as the Marines comb the darkness for any signs of disturbance.
The smell of moldy straw lingers in the air as Cpl. Quinton McCloud and his military working dog, Zamp, search through a bundle of half-empty grain sacks stacked in the corner of the main room. Across the courtyard, Lance Cpl. Michael Stock swings his metal detector back and forth sifting through the trash inside one of the goat pens, beads of sweat rolling down his face.
Two weeks ago, a sniper fired several shots at them from inside the compound as they patrolled the nearby fields. The Marines believe insurgents have been using the house as refuge and now they are searching for any evidence that could prove it—a buried weapons cache, residue leftover from making homemade explosives, or wiring used to connect improvised explosive devices.
Staff Sgt. Javier Jimenez, the platoon sergeant, asks a few Marines to climb atop the interior compound walls to skim the top of the building. As they scan the rooftops with their flashlights, small glints of pewter twinkle beneath a tiny pile of dried poppy stalks.
The Marines draw back the stalks and discover three spent ammunition cartridges buried in the dirt. As they unearth the rounds and place them in an evidence bag, Jimenez radios to the rest of the company that the platoon had just found remnants of lethal aid.
For the company, finding the rounds was a small victory: Operation Grizzly IV had just begun and they had found evidence they could attribute to insurgency.
Firefights and roadside bombs have dwindled for many of the areas in Helmand Province; however, not in Washer, a small farming community surrounded by a vast stretch of rolling desert. The Marines closely monitor the area around Camps Bastion, Leatherneck, and Shorbak (BLS) because insurgent activity has continued to proliferate. Afghan National Security Forces have not established a permanent base in Washer, so Fox Company patrols the area to prevent insurgents from infiltrating the local community and attacking the bases.
Since an attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012, Coalition forces here have expanded their reach into local communities surrounding the bases to prevent similar attacks.
According to Capt. Andrew Nicholson, Fox Company commander, his unit serves as the first line of defense for BLS.
“There are still individuals here in Helmand who want to do harm to coalition forces,” said Nicholson. “As a unit, our job is to prevent attacks from occurring at or near the bases. We methodically focus our efforts on the local communities and conduct daily operations to prevent those attacks from happening.”
Since Fox Company’s arrival in March, the unit has consistently encountered resistance by insurgents. According to Cpl. Michael Emerson, a designated marksman with 1st Platoon, the unit’s operational pace is the reason for much of the fighting.
“As a unit, we constantly have a presence in the local community,” said Emerson. “We have platoons patrol for days at a time and our persistent interaction in the community disrupts much of the enemy’s movement.”
Fox Company has become strategically important to Regional Command (Southwest). Over the last year Coalition forces have focused on building the Afghan National Army, Afghan Local Police, and Afghan Uniformed Police through security force assistance. Fox Company is one of the few Marine Corps units in Helmand province still focused on counterinsurgency operations.
Fox Company understands that insurgency is cyclical—lethal aid and personnel frequently flow in and out of areas. To combat this activity, the unit conducts operations, such as Operation Grizzly, to locate caches of lethal aid and identify individuals who are connected to insurgent activities.
The unit recently completed Operation Grizzly IV, where they maintained a steady pace cordoning and searching compounds, conducting day and night security patrols, and establishing an expeditionary patrol base.
The two-day operation, much like the rest of Fox Company’s deployment so far, involved harassing fire from insurgent snipers, which also included rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire. Once, a roadside bomb exploded and temporarily disabled a vehicle. Fortunately, no Marines were injured during any of the engagements.
The operation proved effective—the Marines were able to gain a large amount of information about the insurgents from the local population, they discovered evidence of lethal aid, and one insurgent was killed during a firefight.
The Future of Washer
Nicholson said the end of Fox Company’s deployment will mark the beginning of a new chapter in Washer. Plans for the Afghan National Army to assume responsibility for security here are in progress and Fox Company will likely be the last Marine Corps unit to serve in their current capacity. Nicholson has faith the ANA will be able to maintain stability in the region and he knows the positive influence his unit had on Washer will be felt by the Afghans there long into the future.
“As our time here comes to an end, our unit has a lot to be proud of,” said Nicholson. “The contributions the Marines have had on Afghanistan will be felt for generations to come. I couldn’t be any prouder of my Marines and what they have done for the security of Afghanistan.”