Victory in Marjah was just the beginning

Guest Column by Ryan Smith

With the battle for Marjah over, the fight had moved south and we went with it, pursing the Taliban along the Helmand River. Our infantry companies were bounding farther and farther south as my platoon escorted the engineers to build new Forward Operating Basesd, Combat Outposts, improve roads and build bridges, so we could better move troops and supplies.

We were always right at the forward edge of the battle. It was well known we would not have the surge troops for long, the order was to push hard, and we did. We were pushing into areas that had never known the boot prints of the U.S. Marine Corps and we had to show we were there to stay.

The fight never let up, and the feeling was that we had them on the run. We had crushed them in Marjah and now we would not only hold our gains, but push farther and not allow the Taliban to return. I could sense a change in the air; we were on the offense and we were winning. The Afghan people knew it too and saw we had come to help them.

As a gunner, I saw their faces every day. Instead of being greeted with rocks or cold stares, they waved at us and gave the ever present thumbs-up. I watched as a little girl pointed to my Vehicle Commander’s hair bun, amazed not only that she was a woman serving with the Marines, but that she commanded two male Marines.

I truly believe that little girl was inspired to do something great by meeting us. I was proud to serve alongside Cpl. Jessica Saunders as we demonstrated without a doubt, that there is no better friend and no worst enemy than a U.S. Marine. Everyone felt the tension in the air was going away in areas we had cleared; our new strategy was working.

My tour in Afghanistan ended in the middle of our last great sweep to clear the area known as the Safar Bazaar, a trading town that was home to drug gangs, smugglers and criminals a mere 20 miles from the Pakistani border. As the last holdout in Helmand province the Taliban weren’t giving it up easily, but the end was near and the Taliban knew it.

The Taliban resorted to attacking anything and everything, a major change from their targeted attacks against US troops; both sides were trying to avoid civilian casualties and to win the hearts and minds. The Taliban had lost this fight, and they knew it.

The Taliban abandoned the fight for popular support when they blew up an Improvised Explosive Device in a major market at peak hours, killing and maiming innocent civilians that U.S. Marines then helped evacuate to our base hospitals. All operations had to stop for two days, because the hospitals had no more bed space for International Security Assistance Force troops if they were wounded. Anyone who claims we do not put civilians above our own, I point you to this event.

The fight for the Safar Bazaar was brutal and costly for all involved. My section alone hit two IEDS (my vehicle being one, my roommate’s being the other) and found eight more in a six-day long mission, but again the Taliban was losing ground and men to the combined American and British assault. The final chapter on the Safar Bazaar operation would not be written until after I left, but it was the same story there and everywhere else. We had taken the fight to the enemy and we had won.

When my platoon left Afghanistan on Oct. 28, 2010, we had not only lived through the deadliest summer since the war began, but we won a major victory in securing Helmand from the Taliban. The surge gave our commanders the troops to succeed; before the surge we were only a holding force, after the surge we could finally do what Marines do best: attack. From Marjah to the Pakistani border the Taliban was crushed, and the mission shifted from attacking, to building.

With the surge drawing down and the election fast approaching, I ask you all to try to have a better understanding of what we accomplished there and what the surge gave us the ability to do before you simply take what you hear from professors or talking heads as fact. Remember why we are there in the first place, and that those troops returning home are your troops, so be proud of what they have done to protect you.

“The people sleep soundly at night only because rough men stand ready to face violence on their behalf. Sleep well my friends, we have the watch tonight.” Semper Fi!