KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- After wrapping up what Army Maj. Gen. Eric Olson called "The most successful offensive military since Operation ENDURING FREEDOM began," the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) has begun retrograding from Afghanistan.
The MEU arrived in Afghanistan in late March and soon began conducting combat and civil military operations in the country's Oruzgan province, birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and a long-time stronghold of anti-coalition militia activity. The MEU's specific goals were to disrupt anti-coalition militia activity, deny them sanctuary in regions where they've long held reign, and provide a secure environment for United Nations voter registration efforts.
"This is an area that has seen little American presence," said Lt. Col. Asad A. Khan, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element, during an interview in early May. "They've seen some special operations-type forces, but we're the first sustained presence in the area and we're having a great impact."
Consisting of its Command Element, BLT 1/6, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22, the 22nd MEU (SOC) was designated Task Force Linebacker and reinforced with Army engineer, psychological operations, civil affairs, and infantry forces.
"We've had great success in the Oruzgan provice," said Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the MEU's commanding officer. "We've dealt the enemy a serious blow and I believe the area is now ripe for the introduction of NGOs [non-governmental agencies] and other relief agencies to help the people here."
The MEU operated from Forward Operating Base Ripley, which it built from scratch near the town of Tarin Kowt. From FOB Ripley, the MEU conducted 12 named combat and civil military operations in the Oruzgan and Zabol provinces. During these operations, 101 enemy fighters were killed, nearly another hundred taken into coalition custody, 2,500 weapons and 80 thousand pieces of ammunition or ordnance confiscated, more than two thousand medical and dental patients treated, and approximately 58 thousand Afghan citizens registered to vote in the country's historic upcoming elections.
These successes did not come without cost. Cpl. Ronald Payne Jr. of Lakeland, Fla. was killed in a firefight with Taliban insurgents near the village of Tawara on May 7, and 11 other Marines have been wounded during the MEU's time in Afghanistan.
When the MEU pulled out of FOB Ripley in mid-July, the Army's 2nd Bn., 5th Infantry, assumed responsibility for combat operations and Provincial Reconstruction Team Tarin Kowt picked up any uncompleted civil affairs project begun by the 22nd MEU (SOC).
Most of the MEU's Marines and Sailors will fly to Kuwait via strategic airlift where they will board the amphibious assault ships WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT to begin the journey home.
The unit is expected to return to Camp Lejeune and other North Carolina bases in mid-September, but stands ready to undertake any mission it may be assigned.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.