May 21, 2009

Marine Artillery in the 'Stan !!

Marine artillery in Afghanistan

The commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps forces in Afghanistan said recently that as part of the troop surge, the Marines are bringing more artillery power for use against insurgents in the rugged terrain.

Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, told defense reporters May 12 that "the artillery is back with the brigade in Afghanistan."

About half of Gen. Hejlik's 8,000 Marines are in Afghanistan, and the rest are set to deploy there in the coming weeks as part of the troop surge designed to stabilize the country.

Gen. Hejlik said the Marines are bringing a newer M777 Ultralightweight Field Howitzer, a 155 millimeter gun, with them. "It's got the same range as the old one 9-er-8 does," he said, referring to the towed M198 howitzer. "Obviously a lot lighter piece of gear, so that's back." Additionally, Marines are using the towed Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS), a 120 mm mortar.

The artillery is needed because troops are being deployed in forward operating bases as part of a new strategy and need readily available firepower against Taliban insurgents, Gen. Hejlik said.

"They have then instant fire support with the 120 and the 777. So that's one of the reasons we did that," he said.

According to a military official, U.S. forces in Afghanistan for years since the 2001 operation to oust the Taliban had relied more on aircraft power than artillery, based on the strategy of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who emphasized the use of smaller, less well-equipped special-operations forces on the ground backed by bomber strikes.

However, in recent months, U.S. air strikes have caused civilian casualties, and the deaths are being exploited by Taliban propaganda efforts against U.S. and coalition forces.

Gen. Hejlik said air support for the Marines remains "the best in the world" and includes F-16s and F-18s armed with precision-guided missiles.

"With the precision systems, actually we're operating right now, we don't foresee a problem. So we'll go with both," he said.

Additionally, the Marines are backed by AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. "I'm an infantry officer, and the greatest sound in the world [is] the Cobra coming down the valley or whatever, so the Cobra's back in there," Gen. Hejlik said.

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