Thursday, March 19, 2009

ANP, 3/8 conduct Operation Pathfinder in southern Afghanistan

Date written: March 5, 2009
Story by: Lance Cpl. Monty Burton

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The Afghan National Police joined forces with the U.S. Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), to execute Operation Pathfinder Jan. 28 through March 7, 2009, in Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 worked with the ANP to conduct the operation, while training and mentoring them.

The ANP and 3/8’s Company I were the main effort in the operation, which consisted of several cordon and search missions, deliberate targeting of suspected insurgent cells, and security patrols in the region along southern Afghanistan’s Route 515. Co. I was supported by Weapons Co. and Co. K.

The operation also gave the Marines the opportunity to partner with the ANP, which gave alliance forces a greater presence in the difficult region of southern Afghanistan. The successful completion of Operation Pathfinder prepared the battlespace for future transfer to the ANP.

“We are here to provide security for the Afghan people,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I commanding officer. “With the ANP leading us through the villages and interacting with the villagers, it helps the local Afghans build faith not only in us, but in their own security forces.

“The ANP led every step of the way during the operation; we were there to support their efforts,” he said.

Operation Pathfinder was designed to enhance all aspects of SPMAGTF-A’s overall mission of conducting counterinsurgency, with a focus on training and mentoring the ANP. The operation capitalized on the recent success of Operation Gateway III, which involved the clearing of Route 515 and the construction of three combat outposts along the important east-west route that connects the district centers of Delaram and Bakwa.

During the course of Operation Pathfinder, the ANP and Marines uncovered numerous weapon caches, which included more than 150 pounds of explosive material, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The ANP and Marines also detained 11 suspected insurgents.

Hoffman said the increased security along the road provides a safer environment for nearby villages and denies insurgent forces freedom of movement in the region.

The ANP and U.S. Marines also had the support of local villages that enjoy the increased security and counterinsurgency effort in the region.
“We had full support of the village elders, which is key to our success here,” Hoffman said. “We were also able to hold a town hall meeting with the local elders, and we had over 60 people in attendance.”

Cpl. Zach Switzer, a squad leader with Co. I, said the operation gave his Marines the chance to get out and interact with the local populace, while gaining valuable intelligence.

“We were afforded the opportunity to get out amongst the villagers and see how they react to our presence,” Switzer said. “We were also able to work hand-in-hand with the ANP in the villages, which helped us to further train and mentor them.”

During Operation Pathfinder, 3/8 employed for the first time in Afghanistan an all-female team of Marines trained to interact with the female Afghan population.

“The operation showed the Afghan villagers who reside along Route 515 that the Marines are here to help,” Hoffman said. “It also sent a message to the insurgents that we know what they are doing, and we are going to stop them.”
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