By Marine Corps Cpl. Zachary Nola
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 14, 2009 - When the Marines and sailors of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, came to the Now Zad region in Afghanistan, the message they received from outgoing units was simple: Beware of the village of Changwalak. "[The outgoing units] wouldn't ever go to Changwalak," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Estevan White, 22, an assault man with Lima Company from Anthony, Texas. "They told us never go there, because that's where they took all their casualties."
Word of Taliban fighters using Changwalak to house their families, supplies and station reinforcements quickly cemented Now Zad's reputation for being one of the more dangerous areas in southern Afghanistan. It was reported the Taliban even went as far as boasting that coalition forces could never take the town by force.
So Lima Company entered the town with artillery, tanks and both fixed and rotary-wing air support readily available. But such support wasn't needed, and the Marines quickly began the tedious process of searching for weapons caches and improvised explosive devices.
"We found a lot of IED-making material, and it's totally in our favor to do that, because we're going to be traveling these roads for the next four or five months, and we don't need any more casualties from IEDs," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Shelton Foerster, 22, a rifleman.
The Marines also located weapons and mortar positions used to launch attacks on the nearby forward operating base, spoke will villagers, and promoted the legitimacy of the Afghan national security forces.
As Lima Company continued to exploit caches and fighting positions, it became apparent the town was supporting Taliban efforts, but the Marines were quick to point out that support probably was the result of intimidation.
"[Changwalak] is definitely harboring the enemy, but I think the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Foerster, from Sealy, Texas.
During the three days the Marines operated in the town, their enemy -- who had promised to fight hard to defend the city -- did little to impede the company's progress. However, the Marines were not fooled by the Taliban's absence, and were aware that much more work remains in the village.
"I think [the Taliban] went down in their little holes they've dug for years. So I still think they're in Changwalak, I just think we need to dig a little bit deeper to get them out," Foerster said. "[The Taliban] are biding their time and afraid to fight us, because they saw all our assets. But I think a couple months down the road they are going to give us a little more resistance."
In the three days Lima Company was in Changwalak, they made a critical step toward purging the area of Taliban fighters. Once Taliban manipulation in the area is ended, Afghan national security forces and coalition forces will be able to take greater strides en route to a safer and more secure Now Zad.
"If we can take Changwalak away from the enemy, then people will start coming back to this area, and then eventually flow into Now Zad and have this whole area back to civilian control," Foerster said.
(Marine Corps Cpl. Zachary Nola serves with the Regimental Combat Team 7 public affairs office.)