Hawaii-based Marines gearing up for major assault in Afghanistan
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Hawai'i Marines battled with fighters on the edge of Marjah in southern Afghanistan this week as thousands of troops mass to attack the Taliban stronghold in what's being called the biggest offensive since 2001.
The upcoming attack is being likened to the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 — a difficult house-to-house offensive the same Hawai'i unit, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, also participated in.
Estimates are that up to 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan forces are prepared to assault Marjah in Helmand province, described as a Taliban haven in the poppy-growing south.
Hawai'i Marines with Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines were flown in by helicopter on Wednesday to secure an intersection known as "Five Points" outside Marjah, and were fired upon by fighters from the town with machine guns.
The Marines and allied Afghan soldiers fired back with heavy machine guns, rockets and small arms fire, wounding and killing several Taliban fighters, according to a story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill on the military Web site www.dvidshub.net.
"We got in here quickly, under cover of darkness on the helicopters, moved into position, set everything in place and were able to seize the objective," Tuthill quoted Capt. Stephan Karabin, Charlie Company's commander, as saying.
Karabin, 30, from West Palm Beach, Fla., said the intersection of roads is important because the route links northern Marjah to eastern Helmand province, and the Marine presence blocks the route of escape.
Other Hawai'i Marines from Bravo Company reinforced Charlie Company after arriving on foot from Nawa about five miles away.
The 1,000 Marines and sailors of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines have been in and around Nawa in central Helmand since November. Three from their ranks have been killed.
Wednesday's skirmish came as the U.S., British and allied forces inch closer to a showdown in Marjah, a town of more than 50,000.
For months the U.S. has been telegraphing its intent to take Marjah. The Taliban stronghold provides insurgents a sanctuary to store weapons, refine and transit opium, and is along a key highway allowing attacks to the north and south, according to the Center for Defense Studies.
As many as 1,000 fighters are believed to be waiting in Marjah. The U.S., with a new emphasis on protecting civilians as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, has repeatedly advertised the planned offensive — without giving the exact date — hoping civilians will take refuge and that the enemy will disperse so Afghan governance can return to Marjah with as little fight as possible.
U.S. commanders have said they expect the town to be heavily booby-trapped.
To combat the mines around Marjah, Marines planned to use their new 72-ton Assault Breacher Vehicles, which use metal plows to scoop up hidden bombs or fire rockets to detonate them at a safe distance, The Associated Press reported.
Tent cities of Marines have sprung up outside Marjah as Marines and U.S. Army soldiers and their allies have surrounded the town.
On Wednesday, Hawai'i Marines were attacked a second time as they fortified fighting positions with sandbags and concrete blocks.
A Javelin shoulder-launched missile was fired back by the Marines and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters followed up with machine gun fire and rockets.The Associated Press contributed to this report.