CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command returned recently from a demanding nine-month deployment, where as the Special Operations Task Force – West, they commanded three companies of U.S. Special Operations Forces and oversaw one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest regions.
The deployment marks the third time MARSOC Marines have taken command of a SOTF downrange. As in past deployments, their accomplishments were numerous. SOTF-West, which oversaw more than one-third of Afghanistan’s land mass, including Helmand, Nimroz, Farah, Herat, Ghor and Badghis provinces, became the first special operations task force to effectively transition an entire province to government of Afghanistan control. The transfer of Badghis, which used to be one of Afghanistan’s most kinetic areas as recently as last year, marks the rapidity of SOTF-West’s progress in the region.
Perhaps SOTF-West’s most noteworthy accomplishment was its thrust into the upper Gereshk valley, Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province; an area relatively untouched by coalition forces, and according to a SOTF report, one that is “the most violent district in all of Afghanistan.” SOTF-West designed and led an operation that consolidated over 14,000 troops from SOF, conventional, U.S. and international forces alike. The push into Nahr-e Saraj saw the establishment of three new coalition sites in the one-time insurgent stronghold, and allowed SOF to begin training and mentoring local Afghan defense forces in accordance with their Village Stability Operations (VSO) mission.
VSO is U.S. Special Operations Command’s answer to the complicated issues of Afghan self-governance and the stabilization of security and socioeconomic conditions; objectives that are becoming increasingly critical as the clock winds down to 2014. VSO provides a platform for Afghans to secure their nation, develop it, and govern it almost entirely through their own efforts.
To do this, SOF embed themselves into Afghan villages and gain the trust of locals. They develop and train an Afghan Local Police force, and legitimize the local government by working through it to address sources of instability for individual villages.
The mission is difficult, but SOCOM has made considerable gains.
MARSOC, though relatively new to special operations, has effectively kept stride with its veteran SOF peers since its inception in early 2006. MARSOC operators attribute this smooth integration to their Marine Corps roots.
“We grew up in the Marine Corps, so we all have a combined arms mindset,” said a team leader with 1st MSOB. “Other organizations don’t train to the combined arms mindset like we do.”
“The Marine Corps is the smallest service,” added an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician with 1st MSOB. “We have to do more with less. And we pride ourselves on the fact that we can do more with less, and I think that transfers over to the MARSOC realm.”
Ultimately, however, MARSOC’s strength lies in the abilities of its individual Marines, and the fraternal bonds that only combat can forge, said the EOD technician.
“It’s a family; it’s an absolute brotherhood,” he said. “These guys live for each other every day, and it’s an honor to be a part of that.”