Narrow Mission For Marines In Lush Afghan Poppy Fields

Narrow Mission For Marines In Lush Afghan Poppy Fields
May 3rd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Narrow Mission For Marines In Lush Afghan Poppy Fields

Narrow Mission For Marines In Lush Afghan Poppy Fields
Houston Chronicle
May 3, 2008 Troops battle Taliban, leaving alone illegal crops, in skirmishes in the volatile south
By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press
GARMSER, AFGHANISTAN Gunfire zings in near Sgt. Dan Linas' patrol, pinning his squad down against a dirt berm. The Marines peer across the field to their left, at three mud huts and a grove of trees, searching for the muzzle flash. Then they cut loose with their M-16s.
The sun is barely up, but for the men of Bravo Company's 2nd Platoon, the firefight proves just the first in a series of skirmishes Friday that will see Marines unleash earsplitting barrages of machine-gun fire, mortars and artillery, most of which land just 600 yards away.
To the east, north and south lie bountiful fields of opium poppies, to the west an unseen enemy.
Airstrikes and artillery have thundered around this southern Afghan town since several companies of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit took the offensive before dawn Tuesday and swept into Garmser, which sits in Taliban territory where no NATO troops had ventured.
Moving into the south
The British military is responsible for Helmand Province, but its 7,500 soldiers, along with 2,500 Canadian troops in neighboring Kandahar, hasn't been enough manpower to tame Afghanistan's south. So the 2,400-strong 24th Marines have come to help.
The push into Garmser is their first mission since arriving from the U.S. last month, and it is the farthest south that American troops have been in several years. Most of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan operate along the border with Pakistan.
Some of the men in the 24th Marines have seen combat in the toughest parts of Iraq, and their commanders hope that experience will help calm the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The Marines in Garmser do not plan a long stay. Their only mission is to open the road for a Marine convoy. They sit and defend the 10-foot-wide lane of dirt.
After returning fire from the berm across the empty field, the men under Linas a 21-year-old from Richmond, Va. jog 100 yards to the platoon command center, where Marines in the lookout post provide covering machine-gun fire.
The platoon mortar team then dials in coordinates and fires off shells in high arcs toward the suspected location of Taliban fighters, throwing up puffs of smoke in the field. There is no way to tell if any militants are hit.
In the foreground, perhaps 40 yards from the Marines' post, a half dozen Afghan men work in their illegal poppy fields, slicing the bulbs to coax out opium resin that will be used to make heroin. They look up as the mortars boom out, then go back to work.
Mere moments later, the Marines hear a rocket being fired in the distance. Everyone rushes for cover, pushing themselves up against mud walls or down into trenches. The boom of exploding missile rattles the outpost but it's a couple hundred yards off target.
'Pure harassment'
A wave of gunfire rings out as Marines react, until sergeants shout for the men to cease fire. One Marine infantryman with a team still on the berm states the obvious: "They missed."
Capt. Charles O'Neill, the company commander, says all-day potshots by Taliban fighters are little more than nuisance attacks. The militants use binoculars and have forward observers with cell phones to try to aim better at the Marines, he says.
"This is pure asymmetric harassment," he says. "They'll pop out of a position and fire a rocket or mortar."
The Marines don't move into the field to take on the Taliban at close range. Their mission is to open the road that goes through Garmser, and nothing more. NATO troops are not authorized to eradicate poppy crops, and the Marines have assured farmers their fields won't be touched.
At the end of the day, no Marines are hurt or wounded. The Taliban casualty count is not known.

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