Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Ross
PATROL BASE KHAMAAR, Afghanistan – When a helicopter-borne force of Royal Marine commandos with M Company, 42 Commando, dropped from the early morning sky at the outset of Operation Zamrod Olai, June 25, they came ready for a fight.
Instead of finding improvised explosive devices and small arms fire, however, the commandos discovered a relatively quiet set of communities.
The Marines had good reason to expect heavy enemy contact, said Maj. Matthew C. Parker, a native of Ashburton, England, and M Company’s officer commanding.
The operation aimed to disrupt insurgent command and control and freedom of movement in the vicinity of Luy Chak and Luy Mandeh near the intersecting borders of Nad’Ali, Nahr-e-Saraj and Lashkar Gah Districts. It was the place where 42 Commando’s J and L Co.’s had seen numerous firefights and suffered casualties from small arms and IEDs during the previous month.
The other companies of 42 Commando operating in the area were constrained by a lack of manpower, so M Company was chosen to insert a strike force to temporarily flood the battlefield with coalition forces. The compounds the commandos were scheduled to search had previously seen no coalition or Afghan security presence.
“I was expecting our freedom of movement to be constrained by IEDs and at least harassing small arms fire,” said Parker.
For a while it seemed that would be the case.
Less than an hour after the commandos and the Afghan forces and Royal Engineers supporting them moved off from their landing zones, the morning quiet was shattered by the sounds of automatic weapons fire and explosions. Marines with 42 Commando’s L Company, located less than a half mile north of M Company’s landing sites, were engaged with insurgents. The fight continued just out of M Company’s sight for a good twenty minutes before a pair of coalition-dropped 500-pound bombs settled the matter.
In the meantime, M Company continued its mission.
“I was actually trying to enjoy tea and a chat with a local elder,” said Parker, who added that his meeting proceeded throughout the engagement and ensuing air support.
At that point, the commandos braced for a day of enemy contact, but they would encounter no further resistance.
Working alongside their partnered Afghan National Police and Army troops, M Company’s commandos searched several compounds for evidence of insurgent presence. The company turned up no concrete signs of enemy activity in the dwellings.
Instead, the commandos and the Afghan forces used the unexpected calm in their sector to meet with dozens of locals.
“The fact that my company wasn’t fired on and that the Afghan forces were able to spread the influence of the Afghan government, I would say this operation was a success,” said Parker.
Working with Afghan troops to spread the presence of the central and provincial government has been a constant theme of M Company’s deployment.
Since arriving in northern Nad’Ali in April, the company’s sectors have enjoyed relative peace and calm, said Marine Sam Richardson, a native of Lincoln, England, and a commando with M Company.
The company’s forces are arrayed across a set of checkpoints in northern Nad’Ali District. From these small outposts the commandos typically patrol at least two or three times each day. The Afghan police and soldiers partnered with M Company also make their rounds in the area, both alongside the commandos and independently.
“It’s become quite quiet around here,” said Richardson. “You can tell we’re on the ground a lot.”
The calm conditions of the area where the commandos typically patrol shows a way forward for the more troubled area where Op Zamrod Olai took place, said Parker.
“I think what’s going on there now is similar to what was going on here six to nine months ago,” he said, adding that A Company, 3 Parachute Infantry Regiment’s efforts in the area before M Company arrived set the stage for the stability the commandos and Afghans now uphold.
In the wake of Op Zamrod Olai, the commandos will refocus on maintaining the peaceful and normal conditions they have enjoyed so far.
The hope is that the operation will help bring some of that stability to Luy Chak and Luy Mandeh, said Cpl. Andy Bain, a Marine with M Company and a native of Somerset, England.
“Obviously there’s insurgent activity in that area, as we saw when we landed,” he explained. “To show that we can show up with ninety blokes on any given morning tells the insurgents there that they can’t expect to do whatever they want and expect to get away with it.”