HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Thunder roared and lightning ripped through the sky while ordinance burst across an insurgent logistics trafficking hub as coalition forces conducted one of the largest raid operations since the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The city of Barham Chah, which lies on the southern border of Afghanistan, was identified as a trafficking hub through which insurgents were receiving supplies to distribute throughout the country. Operation Steel Dawn II put a swift end to enemy activity within southern Afghanistan Oct. 28-31.
“[Barham Chah] is a hub, it is a nucleus, it is a nexus – of all bad things that are happening here in Helmand province and Kandahar province,” said Lt. Col. Scott Leonard, commanding officer of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward). “It is the tip of the funnel … that makes life for the Afghan people, us and our partnered nations very difficult.”
Coalition ground forces, which consisted of roughly 75 percent Afghan National Security Forces and 25 percent International Security Assistance Forces, were supported by 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) aviation assets during the operation.
Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd MAW (Fwd) constructed a forward arming and refueling point several miles from the city in order to allow aerial support to remain engaged over the city longer and return faster, as well as expedite any medical evacuations. The FARP was constructed within 48 hours of the squadron’s departure from Combat Outpost Payne and was disassembled within 24 hours of the raid’s completion.
“Being able to utilize this FARP allowed us to stay in the fight for [twice as long] after refueling,” said Capt. Patrick Richardson, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, 3rd MAW (Fwd). “We were able to spend 15 minutes in transit, 20-30 minutes to refuel and rearm, and get back to support the troops on the ground.”
The operation was a tremendous success, as coalition forces sustained minimal impact and only one noncritical battle injury while achieving their objective.
“We’ve given [the opposition] a pretty serious setback,” said Maj. Jon Custis, the executive officer of 1st LAR. “What we expected to do was disrupt their ability to use Barham Chah as a hub for the trafficking of drugs, weapons, foreign fighters and other insurgents, and we’ve done that.”
According to ISAF Joint Command, a homemade explosive factory with approximately 23.7 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer used as an oxidizing agent in explosives was found. Additionally, contraband including numerous artillery shells, 60 cases of .50 caliber machine-gun ammunition, 18 pressure plate and four pressure-cooker improvised explosive devices, 500 liters of acid, 40kg of opium, 2,000kg of precursor chemicals, and numerous automatic weapons and assorted ammunition was removed from enemy possession.
“The destruction of this insurgent material will have an immediate impact for the people of Helmand province,” said U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres, International ISAF Combined Joint Operations Center director. “The destruction of the homemade explosive material alone equates to potentially more than 2,000 IED's that will not be used against Afghan citizens and their security forces.”
Operation Steel Dawn II demonstrated the capability of Marine Air Ground Taskforces to be on-site with artillery and close air support within 48 hours. The operation has also given insurgents a foreshadowing of the coalition initiative to fight at an operational level and cut off resources coming across the Afghan boarders as well as their distribution through the provinces.
“We will go into the Bazaar of Barham Chah and say ‘we’ll come here any time we want—you can’t stop us. You don’t get to operate with impunity,’” said Leonard to his Marines before departing for Barham Chah. “We will tell them, ‘if you want to come back and rebuild this place, go ahead. We will be back in three months and do this again.’”
According to U.K. Maj. Thomas McBride, a future plans officer for Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan), ISAF forces plan on doing just that. It is highly likely for insurgents to attempt to regain a foothold on Barham Chah, however, ANSF and ISAF forces are prepared to disrupt the enemy as many times as necessary.
“We will continue to aim in on cutting off the resources, which insurgents use to coerce local farmers into harvesting poppies and harming coalition forces,” said McBride. “Without the ability to traffic or distribute supplies they will eventually have nothing left.”
By destroying enemy assets at Barham Chah, coalition and Afghan forces severed a logistical artery of the insurgency. The success of this operation will begin to allow the people of Afghanistan to bring their own economy to a state of normality, unaffected by the trafficking of illegal drugs, weaponry and explosives.