Story by 1st Lieutenant Timothy Irish
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Helmand province, Afghanistan — Operation Eastern Storm continues to secure Route 611 from Sangin’s District Center to the Kajaki Dam.
United States Marines from Regimental Combat Team 8 and Afghan National Security Forces with the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army are participating in this operation.
Securing this route opens a vital corridor for local citizens, Afghan government officials and merchants to transit rapidly between several districts, giving residents a freedom of movement they haven’t experienced in more than a decade. Route 611 branches north off of Highway 1, also known as Ring Road, a major paved road encircling the nation.
“The people of the Upper Sangin Valley and Kajaki District have asked us to help them rid their homes of the insurgency,” said Col. Eric M. Smith, commanding officer of RCT-8. “The area immediately surrounding the dam will no longer be just a bubble of security.
Opening Route 611 allows the people to visit the markets in Sangin and Gereshk and travel to the provincial capitol of Lashkar Gah. They are as much our allies in this operation as is the Afghan soldier fighting alongside the Marine riflemen.”
Increased security gains in the district of Sangin and Helmand province in the past two years have allowed coalition and Afghan National Security Forces to shift their attention north.
“What you have is two security bubbles being connected and consolidated. The bubble around the Kajaki Dam is being connected to the bubble around Sangin’s District Center,” said Smith. “The insurgent has nowhere to go but out.”
Many local citizens have left the area, and those remaining suffered from Taliban murder and intimidation campaigns. The lack of ANSF or coalition forces in the past has allowed parts of the area to become an insurgent safe-haven.
The introduction of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers has been a welcome sign.
“Overall, the mood appears to be one of gratitude and relief — gratitude that someone is there to help them get back to their lives because insurgents have been there for so long,” commented Maj. William Sablan, the operations officer for RCT-8. “Some locals have approached the Marines and asked them if they can get back to farming, praying at the local mosque and shopping in the bazaar.
Really it is just relief that they can get back to normal everyday life.”
The operation is still ongoing, yet it signifies an end to the Taliban’s ability to operate freely in Helmand province. Coalition and ANSF forces have met with little enemy resistance, as engagements with insurgents have been limited to the discovery of improvised explosive devices and small-arms firefights.
“The overwhelming force of Afghan soldiers, police and U.S. Marines continues to push the insurgency out of the region,” said Brig. Gen. Lewis Craparotta, commander, Task Force Leatherneck.