Marine Corps Times just posted a long-form story I filed analyzing what Marines in Afghanistan can expect to see in coming months. It relies mainly on a long phone conversation with Maj. Gen. John Toolan, the outgoing commander of coalition forces in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Among the more interesting things to emerge from the interview: Toolan said Marine forces in northern Helmand province have focused recently on clearing Zamindawar, a region of volatile Kajaki district. The area is northwest of the landmark Kajaki Dam, and zig-zagged by a maze of underground irrigation tunnels.
From the story:
A significant target is Zamindawar, Toolan said. A hostile region in western Kajaki, it is situated among mountains and fields northwest of Sangin and northeast of Musa Qala. It is home to an elaborate network of more than 300 tunnels known as karezes, some of which are hundreds of years old.
“The karezes are really underground irrigation canals that are very sophisticated, and move water to the various agricultural farms that they have,” Toolan said. “Over the years, and over the many years of war, many of those karez systems have been damaged and are not being used, and so the Taliban have turned them over into places to store weapon systems and drugs.”
Commanders have used several Marine units to clear Zamindawar. Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, has pushed in from the east since taking over for 1/6 early this year, Toolan said. Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, has launched operations from the west, where it oversees security in Musa Qala. First Reconnaissance Battalion and special operators also have played a role, taking aim at drug laboratories and other targets.
“It has always been traditionally a very bad place,” Toolan said. “We’ve been all over that place in the last few weeks doing a number of operations, both conventional and Special Forces.”
For the curious, there’s more on Zamindawar posted in this report developed in the 1970s by the U.S. Geological Survey. It includes a substantial amount on the history of the region and its karezes.