Marines of 3/8 Clear Southern Afghanistan’s Deadly Route 515
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Afghanistan
Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Posted: 01.25.2009 04:25
and Sailors of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) and
Combat Logistics Battalion 3 successfully completed Operation Gateway
III, Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, in Farah province, Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan.
By Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan
FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines and Sailors of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) and Combat Logistics Battalion 3 successfully completed Operation Gateway III, Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, in Farah province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 dispatched Weapons Company’s “Team Smasher,” a task-organized element comprised of a Route Clearance Platoon with heavy weapons elements, to clear southern Afghanistan’s Route 515, the Marines of CLB-3, SPMAGTF-A’s logistics combat element, followed in trace, constructing three combat outposts along the important east-west route. Marines of 3/8’s Co. I provided security for Team Smasher and CLB-3’s combat logisticians by conducting joint patrols with Afghan national army soldiers and then manned the outposts once they were constructed.
Route 515, which is notorious for improvised explosive devices laid by insurgents, has been a road few have dared to travel; but it is an important roadway that provides a direct route between the districts of Delaram and Bakwa in the east of Farah province.
“By opening Route 515, we will decrease travel time for alliance forces, as well as enable civilian goods, that are vital to the community, to pass through the area with less resistance,” said Lt. Col. David L. Odom, 3/8’s commanding officer. “The clearing of the route will also open the lines of communication between the two major district centers.”
The construction of the COPs provides an alliance presence in a volatile area, which in turn provides a safer environment for local villagers by eliminating many of the imminent dangers that locals and Marines faced while traveling through the region.
“There is more danger during the commute to work than there is actually at work; so it will be in everybody’s best interest to have a Marine presence in the area,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I. commanding officer.
Odom said the COPs are designed to deny the insurgents the ability to disrupt the security that’s now established on Route 515.
While at the COPs, Marines conducted both mounted and dismounted security patrols and provided a quick reaction force, designed to respond at short notice to any contingencies that arose during the operation. When the Marines were not on patrol or on standby with the QRF, they were constantly fortifying their position, which included filling thousands of dirt-filled protective barriers and laying hundreds of coils of concertina wire.
The COPs were reinforced with machine guns and 120 mm mortar systems provided by 3/8’s Weapons Co., 81 mm mortar platoon. The Marines were also supported from the sky with close-in fire support provided by several AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, a component of the SPMAGTF-A’s air combat element, and Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles to keep an eye on insurgent activity.
The Marines conducted several face-to-face engagements with local villagers to ensure they knew the Marines were there to provide a safer environment for them. During one meeting, a local villager said he enjoyed the Marine presence in the area and thinks the clearing and plans to pave the route in the future could definitely bring more commerce to the Afghan villages.
Throughout the operation, the Marines at the COPs remained vigilant and ready for enemy resistance. During an indirect fire attack during which COP Barrow was targeted by numerous enemy mortar rounds, the Marines returned fire with 120 mm mortar systems and dispatched a QRF in a matter of minutes.
“We always have to be ready,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Lostal, a mortarman with 3/8’s Weapons Co., and one of the mortarmen who quickly responded to the IDF attack. “One second too late, and that could cost a Marine his life,” he said.
During the course of the operation, the Marines located and defeated dozens of IEDs, apprehended and tactically questioned several persons of interest and eliminated several insurgents.
The three COPs along Route 515 will eventually transition from just a U.S. Marine presence into a combined presence of Afghan national police and U.S. Marines to ensure the safety of local villagers and alliance forces, Odom explained.