Sunday, March 8, 2009

ANP, Marines execute cordon and search in southern Afghanistan

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

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Members of the Afghan National Police and U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), successfully completed their first major mission in support of Operation Pathfinder Feb. 9, 2009, in Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

With the ANP in the lead, the two forces conducted a cordon and search of a high-interest village along southern Afghanistan’s Route 515.

Elements of 3/8’s Company I and Weapons Co. executed the cordon and search after receiving intelligence that the village may be harboring weapon caches and insurgent supporters. During the course of the mission the Marines found numerous weapon caches containing more than 150 pounds of explosive material, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive device-making materials. Co. I also found other evidence that provided names and confirmed the identity of several individuals with suspected ties to insurgent cells in the area. The ANP and Marines executed the mission professionally and efficiently.

The Marines of 3/8 dispatched the Biometric Automated Toolset outside of a forward-operating base for the first time since they deployed to the country. The BATS system uses fingerprints, portraits, background information and iris scans to identify individuals and log them into an international database, which can be accessed by any federal agency.

“The BATS system is a way for us to identify the Afghans in a Department of Defense-wide database,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I commanding officer. “This information helps us to identify the criminals and insurgents without a problem. If we were to find fingerprints on a weapons cache or an IED, we could pinpoint exactly who it was.”

Sgt. Nick Bender, the Company-Level Intelligence Cell chief, said the system will also help Marine units in the future.

“With the system, the Marines in the future will be able to identify people of interest without a problem,” Bender said. “They will be able to not only identify these individuals, but also access their family information and where they live.”

The cordon and search mission, which began before dawn, involved the blocking of the roads leading to and from the village, and the hasty construction of a processing center to enter all of the villagers into the BATS system.

As the sun began to rise, the ANP and Marines got to work. They started by escorting the Afghan villagers to the processing center to be entered into the BATS system. After the villagers were cleared, Co. I, with the ANP leading the way, began searching every building in the village.

The mission gave the Marines a chance to work in combat operations with the ANP. As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 works hand-in-hand with the ANP to conduct counterinsurgency operations while training and mentoring them. By conducting partnered operations with the ANP, SPMAGTF-A and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force provide the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with a professional police force able to keep the Afghan people safe.

“Although it was long and tedious work, we knew it not only had to be done, but done thoroughly,” said Cpl. Zach Switzer, an assault section leader with Co. I. “With the ANP leading the way and the village elders supporting the mission, things ran very smoothly and we were able to uncover numerous weapons and explosives.”

Insurgents use these weapons to attack alliance forces that support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with no regard for the lives of Afghan civilians.

The cordon and search also marked the use of Team Lioness for the first time in Afghanistan. Based on a concept used successfully in Iraq, Team Lioness is a group of female Marines trained to engage the female population.

“Team Lioness is a huge asset and definitely contributed to the successful completion of our mission,” Switzer stated. “Now the women know that we are here to help them.”

Hoffman said overall the mission was extremely successful, and it helped his Marines build a positive relationship with the local Afghan population.

“We are here for the Afghan people,” he said. “It is our mission to build and maintain the faith of the people we are here to serve.”
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