Marines Track Down Insurgents in Afghan Valley

By Cpl. Rich Mattingly, USMC
Special to AFPS

KORANGAL VALLEY, Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2005 — U.S. Marines have been operating at the forward edge of Operation Enduring Freedom, often in isolated areas where support for insurgency against the Afghan government and coalition forces remains.

In late December, Marines from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment entered the Korangal Valley in Konar province with the mission to capture or kill terrorists suspected of conducting attacks against coalition forces while working to win over the trust of local villagers.

"We get intelligence that lets us know where the bad guys are," explained 2nd Lt. Roy Bechtold, commander of the unit’s 2nd Platoon. "After we get grid locations, we work with our assets to plan the best way to go in and get them."

The Korangal valley is infamous for its inaccessibility and numerous defeats the Russians suffered there during their ill-fated campaign to control Afghanistan.

After "vertically inserting" in CH-47 Chinook helicopters, the Marines set up blocking positions along the roads and maneuvered into their positions.

"The best way to come in is on foot or by air," said Bechtold. "We have to leave as small a signature as possible in order to not spook the guys we’re looking for into running. If you come in with vehicles, they’ll be long gone before you have a chance." Bechtold admitted that Marines in the past have had difficulty getting into villages sympathetic to anti-coalition forces without having the targets flee.

Once in place, the company’s mission evolved to house-by-house searches as the clock started ticking on how long the Marines had until it was unlikely their targets remained.

Up and down the bluffs and rocky faces that double as paths between the stacked-up houses of the valley, the Marines and their Afghan National Army counterparts talked to village elders, shook hands, and searched houses from top to bottom.

"It all goes back to attention to detail," said Sgt. Shawn Kelly, an acting platoon sergeant. "You can’t skip anything. It could be that one cache or that one guy you miss that could help us stop an improvised-explosive-device emplacement or attack on coalition forces."

The unit’s attentiveness paid off on the second day of the operation, as Lance Cpl. Sean Decoursey, a rifleman from Jacksonville, Fla., crawled through a small opening in a floor to find a cache of weapons and ammunition hidden under a pile of hay.

"I found the AK-47s and ammunition," said Decoursey, modest about the find. "I almost didn’t look in that hole either. It looked like maybe it only went back about two or three feet until I crawled in there."

With the discovery of the weapons, the Marines held one Afghan man for questioning and confiscated his illegal weapons and ammunition. Their find was a good one. After being questioned, the man named several other anti-coalition militants operating in the area.

"It feels really good to be here and to be getting something done," said Decoursey, who has been in the Marine Corps just over a year. "It feels like we’re really making a difference when we can catch one of them."