Thursday, March 19, 2009

3/8 in Afghanistan using 120 mm mortar system

Date written: March 9, 2009
Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), are employing the 120 mm mortar system to combat insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

The 81 mm mortar platoon of 3/8’s Weapons Company is formally trained to operate and has successfully implemented the 120 mm mortar system into its already potent weapons arsenal. Serving as the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 is the only battalion in the Marine Corps currently using the 120 mm mortar system.

Officials at U.S. Marine Forces Central Command worked for months to acquire the 120 mm mortars for Marine operations in Afghanistan.

Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I commanding officer, said the 120 mm mortars give the Marines of 3/8 an increased range to engage effectively and eliminate their targets, and illuminate the battlefield during hours of darkness.

The 120 mm mortars have greatly contributed to establishing and maintaining the security in the battalion’s clearing of southern Afghanistan’s Route 515, which connects the important districts of Delaram to the east and Bakwa to the west, Hoffman explained.

“The 120 mm mortars have been instrumental to our success in Afghanistan,” Hoffman said. “They provide us certain advantages as opposed to the previous weapon systems. These advantages include increased firing range and illumination. They can also be manned by the same size crew as the smaller 81 mm mortar system.”

Hoffman said the 120 mm mortars also give local Afghan villagers a sense of security and faith in the SPMAGTF-A mission of conducting counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Police.

“The illumination of the battlefield lets the Afghan people know that we are watching the area, and insurgent forces will not be able to come into their village at night,” said Hoffman.

Sgt. Brian Morris, a section leader with Weapons Co., 81 mm Mortar Platoon, said illumination is a vital part of the mortarmen’s mission.

“We receive a lot of illumination missions because illuminating the battlefield not only helps our Marines who are patrolling at night, but it also deters insurgents and criminals,” he said. “This denies the enemy freedom of movement in the region because they know that we are watching them.”

Insurgents use the hours of darkness to plant improvised explosive devices and stage attacks against alliance forces. Insurgents use these tactics with no regard for the well-being of the civilian population.

Morris said the transition from the 81 mm mortars to the 120 mm mortars was fairly simple due to the systems’ similarities.

Morris added that although the 120 mm mortar system is not man-portable due to its 318-pound weight, it has a maximum effective range of more than seven kilometers, which allows the Marines to distribute forces in a larger area of operations while still maintaining security.

“We protect our fellow Marines as they advance more on the battlefield and fight the insurgency,” he said.

Hoffman said the mortarmen are professional and extremely proficient.

“We have an incredible group of Marines here,” he said. “They are very efficient and knowledgeable in what they do. They have adapted to the 120 mm mortars and they have adapted extremely well.”
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