Editor’s note: These Marines’ tour was one of the most brutal of the entire war. In its first three weeks in Afghanistan’s Sangin district, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines got into more than 100 firefights, and sustained 62 casualties. The insurgents managed to negate the Marines’ night-vision gear, and rendered their traditional close-combat tactics useless. Things got so bad, the 3/5’s superior officers even suggested pulling their troops back.Comment: "War is Hell" doesn't cover the half of it. These people do the impossible. I can't help but wonder, though--in the long run, was it worth it?
That didn’t happen. Instead, the 3/5 went after the militants, hard. They went on the offensive constantly. They leveled booby-trapped compounds without apology. They didn’t bother with school-building until the insurgents were back on their heels. Nor did they mess with the poppy growers; the Marines had more than their fair share of enemies.
When the 3/5 came home, they told counterinsurgency historian Mark Moyar all about their deeply unconventional approach to what was already an unconventional war. An excerpt from Moyar’s 74-page after action report follows.
On Oct. 13, the day 3/5 took control of Sangin, the first Marine patrol to leave the wire came under fire 150 feet from the perimeter. One member of this patrol was shot dead. Within the next four days, another eight Marines died.
The extent of the resistance encountered in Sangin surprised many of the Marines. It was stronger than any Taliban resistance that Marines had witnessed previously in Afghanistan. During prior major Marine operations in Helmand, the insurgents had fought toe-to-toe for a few days and then relied primarily on IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and small hit-and-run ambushes. The insurgents in Sangin kept attacking in large numbers, and regrouped for counter-attacks after the initial volleys instead of dispersing.
To maintain morale, officers and NCOs kept their Marines focused on the need to defeat the enemy and avenge the fallen, and kept them active so that they did not have time to mope. “You really can’t prepare a Marine to lose his good buddy or see another one of his buddies with both his legs blown off,” said Captain Chris Esrey, commander of India company. “The best way to overcome that is to get right back out on a patrol the next day because it doesn’t happen every time you go out.”
12 July, 2011
From Danger Room: 100 Firefights, Three Weeks: Inside Afghanistan’s Most Insane Fight: "