FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- After a month of continuous combat operations, the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is helping drive a stake into the heart of Taliban and anti-coalition militia activity in south-central Afghanistan.
Consisting of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22, the MEU arrived in Afghanistan in late March, and by mid-April began sending armed forays into the Oruzgan province, in the south-central part of the country.
These missions, dubbed Operations ULYSSES I-V, were reconnaissance patrols to the region around the town of Tarin Kowt, where the MEU would eventually establish Forward Operating Base Ripley, its base of operations.
Combat operations began in earnest on April 26 with the commencement of Operation RIO BRAVO, which was immediately followed by EL DORADO on May 10. These operations were designed to disrupt Taliban and anti-coalition militia activity in regions long known to harbor and support these insurgent forces.
"This size area [where the MEU operates] is normally assigned to a regiment, or in some cases a brigade," said Lt. Col. Asad A. Khan, commanding officer of BLT 1/6. "It's really rugged terrain and the Marines have done all we've asked and more."
The main focus of these operations was to disrupt the enemy's line of communications, uncover hidden caches of arms and ammunitions, and seek out and destroy Taliban and ACM forces. By establishing random vehicle check points in the region and conducting 'cordon and knock' operations in the province's towns and villages, the MEU has thus far killed at least five enemy insurgents and taken 14 into custody.
To date, the MEU has conducted 156 patrols, 70 cordon and search operations, begun or planned more than 80 civil affairs projects, searched more than 3,700 vehicles, and uncovered at least 37 arms caches.
These discoveries have led to the confiscation of approx. 160 rifles of various make, 10 heavy machine guns, 23 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, nearly 19,000 rounds of ammunition, and 1,500 pieces of ordnance or explosives, including grenades, mines, rocket-propelled grenades, explosive devices, rockets, mortar rounds, and bomb-making materials.
"This is all stuff that would have eventually been used against American or coalition forces," said Christmas. "By keeping it out of their hands, we've dealt them [Taliban and ACM] a major blow."
However, these successes have not been without cost. Five Marines have been wounded in clashes with the enemy, and Cpl. Ronald R. Payne Jr., of Lakeland, Florida, was killed in a firefight May 8 near the village of Sahmardun Ghar. On May 12, BLT 1/6's forward base of operations was renamed FOB Payne in honor of the 23-year-old light armored vehicle scout.
Other operations have included security operations for United Nations voter registration efforts and undertaking civil affairs projects including an aggressive campaign of providing medical and dental assistance to needy Afghan locals throughout the Oruzgan province. More than 340 Afghan people were seen and treated during medical and dental projects by the MEU.
"The proof of our success is that the villagers are starting to return to their homes," continued Khan, commenting on the Taliban practice of forcing villagers to leave their homes so they could be used for nefarious purposes. "They're starting to trust us, and come to us with their problems."
According to Khan, the villagers' openness is indicative that the Taliban and ACM are losing their credibility among the rural populace who for years have provided the insurgents with their base of power. In addition to the combat operations, civil military operations such as well-digging projects and the construction of bases is employing local labor, further boosting pro-U.S. and Afghan government sentiment.
"We have never seen Americans work like this," said one village elder from a village near FOB Payne. "You are all over the place and willing to live with us. You are protecting us from the Taliban and the others. You are willing to help us."
The MEU is designated Task Force Linebacker and is continuing its operations. In time, the MEU will leave FOB Ripley where an Army Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and coalition forces will continue to support Afghanistan's quest for stability.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.