UDAIRI, Kuwait --
Fighting an insurgency in contemporary battle spaces, as Marines with Company G training here learned, is cerebral and must be adapted to the times.
The company, assigned as a mechanized raid force with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, aka BLT 2/4, practiced counterinsurgency operations at Forward Operating Base Gerber here Jan. 14-18.
During the exercise, Marines played investigative roles as they moved through towns, observing and interacting with villagers to outwit an unseen enemy.
Marines trained with several role players, mostly Pakistanis and Egyptians, who helped enhance the experience of working with foreign civilians.
“The role players are critical,” said Capt. Ryan Cohen, an operations officer with BLT 2/4. “They replicate a living, breathing dynamic to the environment.”
The role players acted the parts of Afghan civilians threatened by the Taliban but not immediately willing to accept outside support from the armed Marines who walked through their towns.
When the training started, the company spread itself among three training villages, each with different problems. There Marines had to demonstrate a positive presence and gain local trust through meetings with leaders.
When you are trying to fight an insurgency, you have to observe and assess, said Jaime Carrasco, a senior observer controller and former U.S. Army warrant officer in Kuwait.
Marines need more than a situational awareness, he said. They need a situational understanding. In Afghanistan, for instance, it takes more than identifying a problem. Marines must understand the why. Why are locals encountering difficulties? Why the local apprehension?
During the exercise, a simulated Marine went missing, and intelligence gathering was the only way Company G was able to retrieve him. The training was designed so the company’s actions determined progress in gaining local trust to find the Marine.
“The levels of aggressiveness lead the local nationals to be hesitant, even fearful of working with the Americans,” said Carrasco. “It’s a delicate level of balance every leader of troops has to deal with between force protection and opening up to the populace.”
The same platoon of Marines was challenged again when they found a man walking with a shovel and a rocket propelled grenade launcher. At first sight it was thought the man was an enemy going to burry his weapon. Instead of shooting the possible terrorist, they instead went to question him, only to figure out that he found the weapon while digging and was going to tell the Marines about his findings.
“You have to look for clues to find the enemy” said Sgt. Stephen W. Suever, from Coleman, Mich. “It’s more of a thinking game than a fighting game.”
Platoons slept in the villages, ate with the locals and fought with their security forces. The experience was designed to teach Marines how the war is fought in Afghanistan, a place where success can be measured in local support.
On the second day of the training, the company acquired a video showing the missing Marine, found to be captured. In the video they found clues of his whereabouts.
Shortly after solving the clues, the company dispatched its raid force in tracked assault vehicles to secure the Marine held captive six miles from the company’s main training effort.
The raid force searched a house and at first found no missing Marine. They heard yells for help through the walls and eventually found a hidden tunnel system that led underneath the house and to the captive Marine.
“I thought there would have been stairs leading to the basement but there were only holes,” said Pvt. James C. Colucci, from Santa Rosa, Calif. “What led us to him was a blood trail. He was all very well hidden.”
After finding the missing Marine, the simulated local leaders of the towns came to the Marines’ forward operating base. Local and Marine leaders shared a meal.
The Marines, through realistic training, were closer to situational understanding.