22nd MEU Afghanistan Recap: MEU drives stake into Taliban heartland

3 Sep 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

During its failed decade-long involvement in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union and its Communist Afghan allies rarely, and never successfully, penetrated the country's remote and inaccessible Oruzgan province.During this time, and in the years of bloody civil war that followed, the Oruzgan province served as a breeding ground for anti-government sentiment. In fact, Mullah Omar, leader of the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement, hails from the region.It was into the Oruzgan province that the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) initiated the first conventional U.S. military expedition the region had seen and subsequently executed what Army Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 76, called "the most successful military operation since Operation ENDURING FREEDOM began."Designated Task Force Linebacker, the MEU consisted 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's commanding officer, Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., also had under his operational control several companies of the Afghan National Army and eventually the Army's 2nd Bn., 5th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division.Starting with overt vehicular reconnaissance patrols toward the town of Tarin Kowt in mid-April, near which the MEU established Forward Operating Base Ripley, the MEU conducted more than a dozen major combat offensives and civil military operations through late July. During the course of these missions, the MEU's achievements included:- 101 enemy fighters killed in action- 9 enemy fighters wounded in action- 96 battlefield detainees- 361 combat patrols- 175 village/compound cordon and searches- 2,502 weapons confiscated and destroyed- 75,00 pieces of ordnance/explosives confiscated and destroyed- 58,000 Afghan citizens registered to vote in the country's upcoming elections- 2,027 medical or dental patients treated- 108 civil affairs projects begun or completedThese successes were not without cost. Cpl. Ronald R. Payne Jr., a light armored vehicle scout with BLT 1/6, was killed during a firefight with Taliban fighters on May 7, and 14 other Marines and a Sailor were wounded in action during the course of the MEU's time in-country.The MEU's campaign marked the longest incursion by a Marine Expeditionary Unit into Afghanistan, and one of the furthest in-land pushes in Marine Corps history."Never again can they use this place [Oruzgan Province] as a sanctuary," Olson said in an address to the MEU at Kandahar Air Field as the unit prepared to leave Afghanistan. "You went places that has never seen an American. You proved to the world the United States is going to take this fight to the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan unafraid and absolutely determined."While accolades from senior military officers offer a glimpse into the MEU's accomplishments, the most telling description of the individual Marines and Sailors' service comes from a Taliban fighter."These Americans are not like the ones before," he told interrogators after his capture during Operation ASBURY PARK in early June. "They stay and fight. Wherever they go they create death; they are death walkers."This is the final installment in a 11-part series chronicling the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s operations and missions in Afghanistan. After its retrograde from Afghanistan, the MEU served briefly as the Central Command theater reserve before beginning its voyage home.The unit is scheduled to return to the United States in mid-September.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.
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit