3/6 Marines capture bomb maker
By Capt. Brendan G. Heatherman
| | July 26, 2004
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
The sound is faint at first, and the target hears nothing except the calm Afghan winds, the crackle of the fire, and a dog barking intermittently in the distance. The otherwise quiet and uneventful night begins to pulse with the choppy, rhythmic sound of helicopter rotors. The dog begins barking wildly but the target barely notices; he is busy preparing himself for the coming days and weeks. His task is to kill, cause mayhem, and disrupt the efforts of the coalition and the progress of the Afghan people. He is a bomb-maker. As the noise of the rotors grows louder, he freezes and looks up at the ceiling of his home as if he can see through the mud, straw, and lumber. His heart begins to pound as he looks down and sees the materials of destruction laying before him in the soft glow of the fire. His fear quickly turns to anger as the sound becomes deafening, engulfing his compound with a torrent of sand and dirt kicked up by the rotor wash around his home. He scurries to the window and peers through the cracks in the wooden shutter. His eyes widen. His days of terror are over. The men of Lima Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment, are quickly approaching the half-way mark of their six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Their mission has been to protect the coalition forces serving at Bagram Air Field, a task that has been accomplished by providing perimeter security for the base itself and a strike force to rescue friendly forces in trouble or lash out against terrorists operating anywhere in the country. “We have a mission that requires the company to be flexible and rely heavily on the leadership of non-commissioned officers,” said Capt. Drew Warren, Lima Company commanding officer. “We’re spread thin due to the magnitude of the mission but the Marines have not let it get to them. They take on each day like it was their first, no matter what part of the mission they are tasked with.”The multitude of tasks for Lima Co. have given the Marines the opportunity to conduct operations ranging from raids, to guard posts to security patrols. The company has provided a patrolling element for the area in and around Bagram that has greatly reduced the number of rocket attacks on the airfield. “We have had only two rocket attacks here in Bagram since we took over perimeter security,” said 1st Lt. Karl Zeppegno, Lima Company executive officer from Miami, Fla. “Our patrols go out daily and are aggressive. We act on intelligence handed down to us and generate information for ourselves through talking with locals and maintaining a constant presence.” Relationships built out on patrols have led to some local Afghanis passing on information about weapons caches, possible rocket launch sites, and suspected terrorists operating in the area. Lima Co.’s efforts make it difficult for a would-be terrorist to conduct a strike, and the result has been a much safer operating area for the coalition forces stationed in the area.The last line of defense for the airfield is provided by Lima Co.’s perimeter security element. The Marines work long shifts every day in the tall, metal towers spread along the concertina wire. “We’re successful because we treat this mission as a static defense,” said Warren, “We never changed the mindset from combat infantrymen to night watchmen.” Although at times a tedious task, there are occasional spurts of excitement. “We were standing on watch as usual when a local national came toward us and aimed his pistol at us,” said Lance Cpl. Myles F. Tweedy, on guard in the tower during the incident. “We didn’t have much of a choice but to use necessary force to put him down.” The preferred weapon of the guard force is not an M-16A2 service rifle; every Marine in the company has been trained in various non-lethal weapons, which are used frequently to restore order to the often-chaotic area just outside the walls to the base. The man waving the pistol had been warned verbally and with non-lethals during the incident before Tweedy was forced to use his rifle. “Our goal is to protect the wire first with non-lethal weapons. But the bottom line is we have to protect this wire and will do whatever it takes to keep the men and women inside this base safe,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael C. Taylor, Lima Co. gunnery sergeant. To date, the guard force has dealt with infiltrators, crowd control, thieves, and enemy forces taking shots at the towers. The vast majority of incidents were dealt with using non-lethal weapons. Much of the excitement for Lima Co. comes from the reaction force used for various missions at any hour of the day. “The Marines operate on very little information; they get the call, get on the birds, and fly. They’ll receive most of their orders in the air,” said Warren. They got such a call June 17. The force was informed while in the air that two workers for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan were caught in fighting between two tribes in Chaghcharan, a village in the Ghowr Province southwest of Kabul. The helicopters were airborne within thirty minutes of the call and the Marines put together their plan amid the deafening noise of the engines, preparing themselves for what could be a long night. The operation went smoother than expected. The two workers were found and rescued, no one was injured, and the force raced back toward Bagram and safety.The bomb-maker’s name was Anan. He was a well-known manufacturer of improvised explosive devices that have been used successfully against coalition forces. He had lived and operated unscathed in the Warlock province west of Kabul until June 11, when the sound of helicopters filled the night sky and Marines emerged seemingly from nowhere and cordoned off his compound. Within hours, the terrorist and his brother had seen their last days as bomb-makers and were on the helicopter being escorted back to Bagram amidst the heavily armed Lima Company Marines. The mission was a success, the surprise was complete; again, no one was injured. By the time Lima Co. stepped off the helicopters back in Bagram, the morning sun was creeping over the mountains in the horizon and the dark sky had turned to a hazy bluish-gray. Most of the forces stationed at the airfield were just waking, beginning morning workouts, and starting a new day. To them, it had been just another quiet and uneventful night. Just the way Lima Co. likes it.