By Sgt. Joe Lindsay, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
KORENGAL VALLEY, Afghanistan, May 8, 2006 – Afghan National Army and coalition forces have been taking the war on terrorism to their adversaries in this enemy safe haven in Afghanistan's Kunar province for the past month.
Operation Mountain Lion began April 11 with night helicopter insertions of Afghan and coalition forces at strategic points throughout the valley, followed shortly by troops pushing up on foot through the mouth of the valley.
"We're taking the fight to the terrorists in their own backyard," Army Command Sgt. Maj. James Redmore, of Task Force Spartan, said. "They gave their victims no sanctuary. They'll receive none from us."
An estimated 2,500 Afghan and coalition forces are in the Korengal and surrounding valleys in what military officials are calling the most significant effort yet to bring stability to this war-torn region.
"The enemy has very few options," said Marine Lt. Col. James Bierman, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, whose Hawaii-based unit is the main thrust of the operation. "The first option he has is to run. If he runs, he leaves the safety and sanctuary of the villages where he's mixed with the local population, and he now becomes detectable by air support."
The next option would be to blend in with the local populace, Bierman added. "The last option (the enemy) has is to fight. If he does that, he's going to have a world of hurt put on him."
Every single company from 1/3 has been in firefights and received fire, said Marine 1st Lt. Kevin Frost, platoon commander for 3rd Platoon, Company C. "It is a credit to our abilities as coalition forces that they've shot at us but haven't come close to winning any engagements," Frost said.
The Marines frequently get into skirmishes with the remaining enemies, and the ones that are left "are just stubborn," said Marine Sgt. Michael Chambers, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Company C. "They pop off a couple rounds at us and then run back along the ridgeline, trying to get away."
Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Butler, an operations chief with 1/3, said he agrees. "There have been dozens of firefights so far, but the enemy is finding out that they pretty much can't do anything effective against us," he said.
The Afghan army has played a significant role in the success of the operation, so has outstanding support from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, which cordoned off the other valleys, Butler said. Air support from the U.S. Air Force also has been key. "This has truly been a joint effort," he said.
The Afghan National Army has played the central role in this operation, said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Donald Vollmer, an operations watch chief with the 1/3. "We are here to support them," he said.
Additional support to the mission has included a medical civic assistance program as part of the coalition's humanitarian mission in Afghanistan.
"Our Navy corpsmen have treated over 3,000 Afghan locals in the Korengal Valley since the start of Operation Mountain Lion," said Marine 1st Sgt. John Armstead, of Headquarters and Service Company of the 1/3. "We are here to help make their lives better and to provide whatever support and assistance we can."
Marine Maj. Michael Miller, the battalion's executive officer, said Operation Mountain Lion has the potential to be the catalyst that changes the makeup of the entire region.
The operation essentially has taken away a major enemy sanctuary, which has increased stability and welfare among the people, Miller said. "We are here for the long haul," he said.
All the beneficial factors and accomplishments of Operation Mountain Lion will continue to resonate throughout the Korengal Valley for a long time to come, he added.
"This was ANA and coalition teamwork at its best. We were together shoulder to shoulder on this operation, and it establishes a foundation of support from the local populace when the ANA taking charge," Miller said.
"The operation is stabilizing the area and helping the people of Afghanistan," Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Craig, the battalion's operations chief, said.
"Operation Mountain Lion has put us five to 10 years ahead of where we were before the operation started," he said.
(Marine Sgt. Joe Lindsay is assigned to Task Force Lava Public Affairs.)