The View from Garmsir, Helmand Province
COP Sharp. It took longer than I hoped, but after arriving at Camp Leatherneck, I was able to make my way south, and am currently in Helmand Province, Garmsir District.
For those of you who don’t know, last year the Marine Corps was given control of Helmand and Nimroz Provinces, and operates as Regional Command SouthWest (RC-SW). Headquartered at Camp Leatherneck, Major General John Toolan and Brigadier General Lewis Craporatta control two Regimental Combat Teams; RCT-1 (Colonel David Furness) operates south along the Helmand River Valley to where the Helmand River bends west, while RCT-8 (Col Eric Smith) has Marines based to the north and east of Camp Leatherneck ranging from Now Zad to Sangin.
So what’s happening?
Lots of good things, but the “big picture” is comprised of a thousand little events that illustrate how the locals-ANA-ANP-Marines are successfully cooperating to bring stability to this area. I’m with 1st Bn, 3d Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Riordan commanding, and he’s got Marines stationed in literally dozens of little PB’s (patrol bases) up and down the river valley. Captain Joshua Rosales commands Company A, 1/3, for Riordan at COP (combat outpost) Sharp, and under Rosales are a number of even smaller patrol bases. I spent a few days at PB Empire: eight Marines, an interpreter, and four Afghan Army who patrol 1-2x daily and interact with the locals.
Marines of 4th Platoon, Alpha Co., 1/3 chat with little boys
who want the Marines to watch them dive off a bridge.
First Lieutenant Charles Eberly commands at Empire, a small base one mile down the road from Sharp. His mission is to maintain and improve the good relations passed to him by the previous Marine unit (2d Bn, 1st Marines), and you do this, Eberly explained, by meeting and talking with the elders and other villagers—so he and his 4th Platoon Marines patrol daily.
This is a farming area, where perhaps 80,000 Afghans live within approximately a half-mile of the river, and grow wheat, along with corn, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fruit. The locals are genuinely religious and all activities stop as the mosque loudspeakers blare prayers 5x daily, but otherwise there is constant activity in the local bazaar where 50-plus shops sell everything from Pepsi (from Dubai) to clothing to vegetables. Massey-Ferguson tractors, Japanese cars and motorcycles pull into the local gas station.
As the boys crowd the camera, a pre-teen girl stands
back observing, and unable to join the levity.
There is currently no fighting here; the Marines initially came to Garmsir three years ago (See Lubin, Leatherneck, "Alpha" Co, BLT 1/6: In the Biggest Fight Since Fallujah,” Sept 2008), and after three weeks of fighting the Taliban, they and the locals immediately started to build good relations. A point of extreme pride that Riordan, Rosales, and Eberly pressed on the locals at every opportunity is that just a few days ago the Afghan Army and Police planned and conducted a mission where 350 pounds of IED material was seized, and four highly-placed Taliban leaders arrested—with two being member of the Taliban’s shadow Helmand Province government based in Quetta, Pakistan. The information was developed through the Afghan peace and stability. While most of the local elders had already heard the news, when on patrol Eberly and Riordan told the local farmers about the capture, while singing the praises of the Afghan Army and Police who so successfully conducted the missions.
The praise goes both ways—two nights ago, Eberly walked to the home of local businessman Haji Raesse in order to discuss a proposed bridge repair. Over chai and candy he repeatedly congratulated Eberly for the restraint and professionalism of the Marines, as opposed to the Russians. “They never shot wildly,” he told Eberly and Leatherneck; “but they were very accurate when they did shoot. And they always show respect and affection to our women and children. So long as you continue like this, the locals will support you.”
That’s the COIN war in the Garmsir District of RC-SW. Although every patrol goes out armed and vigilant against a Taliban attack or IED, sooner rather than later every patrol finds itself trailed by a group of little boys asking “what is your name,” while the Marines ask the same question of them, saying “sta nuum.”