Harvest Moon reflects fading Southern Helmand insurgency

7 Jun 2011 | Sgt. Jesse Stence

Spring will no longer be a favorite time of year for Southern Helmand insurgents because of counterinsurgency operations like the recent narcotics interdiction conducted by Afghan National Security Forces, with the support of Marines, soldiers and sailors of Regimental Combat Team 1, Task Force Leatherneck.
Operation Harvest Moon recently concluded, after six weeks of operations that extended coalition presence and attacked the heart of the region’s drug trade, an important source of revenue for insurgents.

“We had reports that the enemy offensive was supposed to start in early May, and this operation was designed as a spoiling attack to prevent the enemy from being able to conduct those events,” said Lt. Col. Lance Jackola, the RCT-1 future operations officer. “(Because of coalition operations) there has not been a significant increase of enemy activity in the area the past six months, and a lot of it, I think, (affected) the enemy’s logistics and command and control nodes.”

The operation involved coordinated searches and raids along suspected enemy supply routes. The Afghan National Security Force, supported by four RCT-1 battalions, established new vehicle checkpoints; conducted raids on known enemy facilities; and helicopter-borne search teams extended coalition presence to less densely populated pockets of the province.

“The idea behind the aerial interdiction force is to identify ‘rat lines’ that lead into and out of our area of operations, and (to) interdict the enemy in areas where they are most vulnerable,” explained Jackola, a native of San Marcos, Calif.

He said ANSF troops also played a significant role in the operation.

“All of the battalions that participated in this were partnered with Afghan Army and police,” Jackola remarked. “Everything we do is partnered with the Afghans, and every operation we do with them gets them closer and closer to assuming the goal of lead security in their districts.”

According to RCT-1 officials, the operation yielded more than 1,500 pounds of narcotics, 60 weapons caches and approximately 50 detainees.

Capt. Glen Taylor, the assistant future operations officer with RCT-1, said the quantity of narcotics confiscated makes up only a small percentage of the total illicit trade in Southern Helmand. However, the operation extends the Afghan government’s influence in the region and has certainly frustrated insurgents’ efforts to destabilize the area.

Taylor, a Millboro, Va., native, predicted the area’s drug trade will suffer in the long run due to the government’s expanding influence.

“The operation will have an effect next planting season, when (farmers are) deciding what to plant,” he said. “Poppy is going to be more profitable than the other crops (local farmers) can plant in the winter … If we can’t make the other crops more profitable, we can make it more painful for them to plant poppy.”

Editor’s Note: The regiment supports 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which serves as the ground combat element in Helmand. The mission of the division is to partner with ANSF to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF to assume security responsibilities in the region. Ultimately, the partnered forces promote the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.