COMBAT OUTPOST LION, Afghanistan (10/27/2011) - With no coalition troops in the western tip of the Horn of Panjwa'i, Taliban fighters remained free to move, and place improvised explosive devices, throughout the rural farming village of Do'ab.
A scrapper dumps dirt at Combat Outpost Lion Oct. 19. The dirt will be picked up later and used to fill Hesco barriers around COP Lion, the newest COP in the Panjwa'i district. The COP's location, in Do'ab village, is the furthest west into the Horn of Panjwa'i coalition forces have ever been. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler, Oct. 19, 2011
Seen as the last Taliban stronghold, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, immediately began assessing a plan of action to disrupt enemy operations in the Panjwa'i district of Kandahar province, their area of responsibility.
After the unit's July arrival to Afghanistan, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, also under 1st SBCT, 25th Infantry Divison, were assigned to cover specific areas within the district. By September, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, along with engineers from the Iowa and Puerto Rico Army Reserve and Afghan National Army, began operations.
The first step was to build ANA checkpoints along the already-established Route Hyena. From the last checkpoint on Route Hyena, the road would be extended roughly one and one-half miles and end at the entrance to Combat Outpost Lion; the recent addition to the road was named Route Agha, after the district's governor, Hajji Sayed Fazluddin Agha. Finally, at the end of the road would lay Combat Outpost Lion.
“Lion is the furthest west outpost in the Horn of Panjwa'i. No one had been into Do'ab, and it hasn't been patrolled regularly. By going into Do'ab, we can deny the Taliban any terrain and, in turn, make the area more secure and help the government of Afghanistan support their people,” said 1st Sgt. Jeff Peppin, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment first sergeant.
As construction began, there were met with resistance, often in the form of IEDs and small-arms fire, Peppin said. But the work continued on.
The entire project was slated to take about two months. The engineers worked feverishly while soldiers from 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, provided security.
“We are out here from the time the sun rises until the sun sets, every day, making sure we get this done,” said 1st Lt. Marc Helm, platoon leader with the 322nd Engineer Company, 368th Engineer Battalion, Naval Construction Regiment. Helm, a reservist from Des Moines, Iowa, oversees engineers from his company, as well as soldiers from the 475th Engineer Company, of Puerto Rico.
“We understand our part in this — to establish a force presence and get the Taliban out which will, economically, make a difference for the people of Do'ab,” said Helm.
Aside from IEDs, engineers were met with another problem: dust.
Moon dust, a term used to describe the extremely fine dirt covering the area, was settling into the moving parts of the equipment and, mixed with the extreme heat, causing the heavy machinery to break down a lot quicker, said Helm. Waiting for parts to be shipped from the United States can take weeks or months, he added.
Regardless of equipment challenges, construction was finished more than a week ahead of schedule.
“The engineers did great work. Construction has been a success, and now we can help bring security to the area, get the locals to start trusting us and, hopefully, getting them to return. ” said Peppin, adding that he is already seeing some of the local returning and tending to their crops.
An indisputable sign of success has been the decrease in enemy activity in and around Do'ab since construction began in September.
“The insurgents have tried extending the fighting season because of the presence of troops in the area, but they have been unsuccessful” according to intelligence analyst Spc. Joshua Rinker, a Richmond, Va., native serving with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment.
Since breaking ground on the road to Do'ab in early September, IED attacks are down 46 percent, small-arms fire are down 47 percent and the frequency of indirect fire attacks has also decreased.
Rinker expects numbers of attacks to continue to drop as villagers begin returning to their homes and interacting more with ANA and U.S. Soldiers in the area.
With construction of the road and Combat Outpost Lion finished, Peppin's men have begun a project of their own— make their COP a home.
More associated images in frame below
By Army Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler
1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
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Associated articles by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler > Deep In The Heart Of Taliban Country | There's No Place Like Home