HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Like any other Monday morning, the streets of the Ismat Bazaar were packed wall-to-wall with traders and travelers. According to local security forces, the bazaar is a suspected logistical hub for insurgents operating in local regions of Afghanistan such as Marjeh, and has lacked a consistent International Security Assistance Force presence – until now.
Operation Oasis was a combined effort between U.S. and U.K. forces to collect census data from the local population as well as stop enemy freedom of movement.
The Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 “Gunfighters” provided overwatch for two CH-53D Sea Stallions with the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, the “Ugly Angels,” with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), as Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, were inserted into the bazaar. Once on the ground, they were reinforced with additional Marines from 2/9 in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles, as well as U.K. forces from 1st Battalion, of the Duke of Lancasters’ Regiment.
Some of the local Afghans present at the bazaar were initially startled at the sight of the aircraft overhead. As local civilians began to leave the area, 2/9 and 1 LANCS approached them to ensure they knew the troops were there to help.
“Part of why we were there was to show a coalition presence and deter the enemy,” said Capt. Danny Martinez, the Gunfighter air mission commander of the flight. “It was not all just about shock and awe though; we don’t want to disrespect the people of Afghanistan. It‘s as important for them to know we are here to take care of them as it is to deter the enemy.”
The Afghan National Army and coalition forces were able to archive biometric and census data on more than 600 citizens, and through ANA interpreters, explained how this information would help them.
“The initial reaction to the Marines landing de-escalated fairly quickly,” said Capt. Patrick Hall, the air officer for 2/9. “Once they understood we were there to gather information in order to better help them, things went very well.”
The coordination between the 3rd MAW (Fwd) squadrons, 2/9 and 1 LANCS directly contributed to a successful operation without conflict.
“The Marines on the ground knew exactly where to go and what to do. Things went exceptionally well this morning,” said Martinez, a native of Eagle Pass, Texas. “It gives me a real sense of accomplishment knowing I can give them the support they need.”
Without the aviation assets provided from the 3rd MAW (Fwd), this operation, and many like it, would put ISAF in increasingly dangerous situations. The enemy often uses improvised explosive devices on roadsides in an attempt to inflict grievous bodily harm on coalition forces noted Martinez. With the ability to drop troops directly into their objective, the threat of IEDs is almost entirely mitigated.
Due to the great success of the operation, the census data collected can now be used by the Afghan government to provide benefits to the citizens of the area and assist local business owners. Furthermore, any supporters of insurgent activity may think twice about future aid to the enemy.