KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan --
On Nov. 4, seven F/A-18 Hornets took off from here en route to Kajaki Dam to take out several known enemy firing positions.
Their mission – to deny the enemy the ability to attack coalition forces from compounds in the area.
The F/A-18s, with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), dropped 14,000 pounds of ordnance on 21 known enemy firing points and weapons caches.
“In a counter insurgency operation, the Marines need to be afforded the freedom to move throughout their [area of operation], to interact with the locals and to have a feeling of some sort of security,” said Capt. Andrew Zetts, one of the mission pilots with VMFA-232, the “Red Devils.” “It really helped that we were able to just take those fighting positions out.”
By eliminating the enemy firing positions, Marines on the ground were able to approach the civilians in a less intimidating posture because they don’t have to be concerned with enemy forces using these positions to interfere with COIN operations, Zetts explained.
“It strengthened the Marines’ confidence in their ability to walk a little more freely throughout the area and interact with the locals to achieve the goals that we are here to achieve,” continued Zetts, who is originally from Youngstown, Ohio.
Marines of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, operating at Kajaki Dam conducted surveillance on several compounds over a period of five months to study the locals’ pattern of life. Through their observation, the Marines learned which compounds and buildings were being used as firing positions and weapons storage units. They watched insurgents take weapons and other materials into and out of these compounds.
After determining the buildings were inhabited by enemy forces, 3/12 called on air support for a preplanned strike, because they knew it could be done without hurting any civilians, explained Capt. Michael McMahon, another Red Devils pilot.
Each of the seven aircraft carried three or four GPS guided missiles that were dropped precisely on the buildings targeted.
At the end of the day, more than 14 enemy forces were killed in the strike and no civilians were injured, explained Capt. Taj Sareen, a Red Devils pilot who participated in the mission.
To ensure this outcome, Marines on the ground relayed information via radio to the pilots.
The ground forces told the pilots when they were clear to launch ordnance – ensuring pilots knew there were no civilians in the area that could be harmed, added Sareen, who is originally from San Francisco.
“As far as working with India, 3/12, their unit was pretty much flawless from the ground perspective,” Zetts said. “There is always a risk of someone approaching the building between being cleared to launch and time of impact.”
This was the first preplanned strike VMFA-232 pilots have completed, but the results showed how well it can work.
As far as a results perspective, the weapons effectiveness and the efficiency of them doing what they were supposed to do was outstanding, Zetts explained.
“I think it went well,” Sareen said. “Supporting the guys on the ground is what we are here for and seeing it all come together was awesome. The most rewarding part is helping the guys on the ground.”
Due to the precision ordnance drops, coalition forces at Kajaki Dam now have more freedom of movement and are able to perform their portion of the COIN operation to help stabilize the country and ensure local nationals are protected from insurgents.