HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- U.S. Marines with Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Regimental Combat Team 8, moved into Helmand province's "Green Zone" this week, where Taliban insurgents had previously roamed nearly uncontested.
2nd Platoon, Co. I, and attachments flew into a location west of the Nahr-e Saraj Canal in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, where they established a forward patrol base. A logistics train followed later that day, using an Assault Vehicle Land Bridge to overcome the network of ditches and streams used to irrigate local fields.
The Green Zone is an area of fertile farmland between the Helmand River and Nahr-e Saraj Canal and the heartland of a poppy/heroine drug trade that funds the insurgency. The Marines entered this area to gain the support of the local agricultural workers by eliminating insurgents that coerce the people to support their narco-trafficking efforts through murder and intimidation campaigns. According to Company I's leadership, the strategy seems to be working.
"There are two sides to COIN," said Capt. Brian Donlon, company commander of Company I. "So far we've done a pretty good job of befriending locals and gaining their help in finding insurgents and (Improvised Explosive Devices). Now we're going to do the other side of COIN: killing bad guys who need to be killed."
The only other forces operating in the Green Zone since BLT 3/8's arrival in Helmand province have been special operations teams from ISAF. BLT 3/8's other companies, L and K, have been providing security at other locations in the Gereshk Valley of Helmand. The security provided by the Marines has allowed civilian contractors to make considerable progress in constructing Highway 611, one of the development projects the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is implementing in the area.
BLT 3/8's mission is to establish and maintain security in portions of Helmand province not previously permanently occupied by ISAF. The security the Marines provide is intended to neutralize insurgent networks and support development projects, allowing the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to foster socio-economic development in the area.