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10 Photos Of The Battle Of Marjah From A Marine’s Perspective
In November 2009, President Barack Obama announced that 30,000 additional U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan. Several thousand Marines were deployed to opium-rich Helmand province where the Taliban-held stronghold of Marjah was to be the proving ground for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. On Feb. 13, 2010, Marine and coalition forces launched an all out assault on Marjah. The attack was highly publicized and the city's diehard Taliban defenders had spent the previous month's turning Marjah into a heavily mined and well defended stronghold.
Lance Cpl. James Clark deployed to Helmand province with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment as a combat correspondent from December 2009 to July 2010. His job was to write news stories and capture photos that depicted the day-to-day operations of an infantry battalion. This is his story.
January 2010. This is a photo I took from a firefight on my first foot patrol in country. I was out with Alpha Company, 1/6. A POG and a complete boot I remember telling the company gunny at Observation Post Huskars that I wanted to see combat and “cover the war." I actually said that. He raised an eyebrow and said something about heading West for 30 minutes, and out I went with the next patrol. We ended up getting into a firefight that drug on for hours. I never actually saw who it was we were taking fire from or shooting at. We didn't suffer any casualties.
February 2010. I was attached to Bravo Company 1/6 for the heliborne insert into Marjah. We landed early in the morning, around 3 or 4 a.m. The call to prayer came just after sunrise, and almost immediately, we began seeing military-age men moving throughout the city, riding around on mopeds or ferried back and forth in cars. They weren't visibly carrying weapons — some even waved their hands to prove it — so there wasn't anything we could do except wait to get shot at first.
February 2010. There wasn't one initial gunshot, not one that was distinguishable. We started taking contact, sporadic at first, then more sustained, and it just kind of picked up all across the city. The 81mm mortarmen in the photo, dubbed the “Shady 1s," were approved to drop rounds on a compound from which Marines were taking fire.
February 2010. This photo of me was taken shortly after Cpl. Jacob Turbett was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was standing next to the compound wall in the background. That's his casevac coming in.
The fighting was continuous the first day and stayed mostly the same across the city for the next two days. By the end of the first week, it was starting to quiet down, but the fighting never really stopped, and eventually the momentum shifted to the enemy. Pitched engagements between Marines and the Taliban gave way to sporadic contact, ambushes, and IED strikes for the remainder of our deployment. We were barely two months into our pump when we landed in Marjah.
February 2010. One night during that first week, there was a commotion just inside the compound where we were set up. I heard a few shots go off, and then a much louder bang. A few moments later, a 20-foot pillar of fire leapt into the sky. It burned for about 20 minutes without letting up. At first, some of us thought we were under attack, then word spread that enemy fighters were shot and killed while trying to sneak in with a suicide vest, or an RPG, or grenades — the story changed. Somehow that led to a large fuel tank across the street catching fire. To this day, I have no idea what exactly happened.
March 2010. As the push to clear Marjah transitioned into counterinsurgency operations, I started working out of Forward Operating Base Marjah, or where it would be once it was actually built — I pushed out to the line companies from there. We slept on cots under solar shade in 100-degree heat and the moon dust was knee-deep at first. After a week, it was pounded down enough that it didn't send up mushroom clouds every time you tried to walk.
March 2010. At this point in our deployment we didn't have much, not even piss tubes. So the engineers dug a big pit, filled it with rocks and lime and put up a sign: “Swim at own Risk. No Diving!" You know what's weird? Stagnant piss kind of smells like gone-by tomato sauce.
April 2010. A friend of mine, Cpl. Charles Mabry asked folks back home to send dehydrated cheese, tomato sauce, and pepperoni. We built a small oven, used leftover Hesco mesh wiring for a grill, and made pizza out of Afghan flatbread. It beat the fuck out of MREs and tray rats. Unfortunately, the H&S; company gunny came by the next day and destroyed it.
May 2010. I spent a lot of time with the battalion's 81mm mortar platoon, seen here. We were staying at a checkpoint a ways from the battalion headquarters for a few days. One night, we watched “Cool Runnings" on the toughbook I was issued for work. When the movie was over, I looked behind me and saw a dozen people, adults and kids, gathered just beyond the C-wire watching us. I still feel guilty that that was probably the first American movie they saw.
June 2010. This is a photo of me at the government center in Marjah while I was covering a shura, which really just meant I was taking a lot of photos of people drinking tea. Near the end of the deployment, most of the stories I covered were about civil affairs, VIP visits — aka dog and pony shows — and counterinsurgency operations, specifically the agricultural initiative we were trying to push in the area. That amounted to Marines talking to opium farmers through an interpreter and trying to convince them that corn or some other crop would pay better. It was a tough sell.
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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on RFE/RL: Afghanistan.
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