Tuesday, November 25, 2008


A Good Day, Indeed

Understatement can be a powerful thing. (Just ask the British, who are famous for it.)

On the other hand, it's clear that the British don't have a monopoly on this. What would you call it when 30 American Marines, tired out from a long day of patrolling, are ambushed by a force of 250 insurgents -- and fights them off, in the insurgents' own backyard, inflicting over 50 casualties with no American dead, and leaving the remaining insurgents disarmed and fleeing for their lives?

One of the young men who made it happen calls it "a good day for the Marine Corps":

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages.

Shewan had been a thorn in the side of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan throughout the Marines’ deployment here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, because it controls an important supply route into the Bala Baluk district. Opening the route was key to continuing combat operations in the area.

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

(emphasis mine)

Amazing. I do hope that the "young corporal" will be recommended for a Silver Star; that sort of cold courage and dedication to duty -- and to the team -- deserves serious recognition.

Addendum: to some, this will seem a very strange thing to celebrate. We should be grateful that over 50 Afghanis are dead?... Does that mean that Afghani life is less important than American life?

Well, let's understand this. It is part of a soldier's job to kill, and to risk being killed, in order to accomplish the mission. The mission may be to take a particular hill and hold it; or it may be to move into an urban area, smoke out the locals who have been sniping on them and terrorizing their neighbors, and force them to surrender or die. Or it might be simply to build roads and schools and electrical infrastructure, while defending themselves -- and the civilians working with them -- from attack.

You send in the military when force may be required, even if it's not expected... and you send in the military when nothing but force will do. Some find it depressing that such cases exist, but they do; not everyone is willing to negotiate, and some people simply will not believe you when you tell them that it's better not to fight. They will fight, regardless of whether their fighting makes sense to you... and you need to be prepared to fight back.

(If you're not willing to fight back, then you must be prepared to surrender to the first group that raises its hand against you. They will then treat you however they please. They don't need to listen to you; why should they, since you've already proven that you're not willing to fight, and they are?)

So our military, composed of citizens who have volunteered for the privilege, fight in our name. And when they fight, they don't have the luxury of wondering about the value of one human life vs. another. They know that they can see armed men who are determined to kill them, and that their choice is simple: kill or be killed... if you can. Protect your comrades-in-arms, as they protect you. And inflict enough damage on the enemy to force him to stop fighting.

When I served in the IDF, we were taught to use "reasonable force", which was defined as "the minimum force required to solve the problem". The Marines in Shewan clearly had a similar idea. Instead of calling in air support for saturation bombing, which would have leveled the town (and solved the problem), the Marines went house-to-house, seeking out their ambushers, and putting them on the run, in spite of heavily lopsided numbers. They cleaned out the town, which was their job... but they left the town intact.

By way of analogy: imagine a policeman in uniform, walking home past a dark alley. From the shadows, eight young toughs jump him without warning, brandishing knives and chains and clearly intent on murder. For the policeman to take on all eight of them, without assistance, and disable some and run the rest off, would be remarkable enough. For our policeman to do so with no serious injury to himself would be amazing.

A good day for the Marines, indeed.

UPDATE: When I first wrote this, I confusingly referred to "Iraqis"; sorry about that. Yes, this incident took place in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. Thanks to loyal reader Jane M. for straightening me out!


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