Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Raid

The intel was quite specific but you'll understand if I'm a little vague about details. We had a name and description of a man suspected of being an IED facilitator. A facilitator helps the guys who build and plant the improvised explosive devices that have twisted a dozen of Alpha Company's armored vehicles. (Twisted, yes, but every Marine in them has walked away.) The intel also told us where and when we could find the guy.

Now I've been on raids like this before -- in Vietnam and Iraq. And more times than not you come up dry.

But not this time.

The place we were told we could find this guy was in a compound near patrol base Sofla in a village called Kenjak Sofla.

Compound. Imagine a twisting maze of alleys, eight-foot tall mud walls, a collection of houses and garages and small barns. Chickens and turkeys running loose. In all, maybe an acre or two. We were told we could identify which compound by the green doors.

We pulled up in broad daylight in four armored vehicles, nearly two dozen Marines and a pair of Afghan National Army soldiers. The Marines cordoned off the compound with practiced ease. The only confusion came when the Marines discovered several green doors. They picked one.

Inside they found a heavy-set, middle-aged Afghan man. He told us his name, which matched that of the suspect's father. He told us no one else was there, and with that a door opened and into the courtyard walked a young Afghan man. Well, almost no one else. The old man led us to a larger courtyard and there we found still another young man, a man who fit closely the description of the suspect the Marines were hunting.

Staff Sgt. Keith Kesterson, who was leading the raid, and Moi Tai, his interpreter, began the questioning. Kesterson had a practiced set of questions to break down any evasions. "What's your name?" Kesterson asked. The man simply and promptly identified himself as the guy they had been sent to find.

Sometimes it's just that easy.

The suspect was tested for the presence of explosives on his hands, arms and clothing. He tested positive. In one of the garages the Marines found four 50 kg bags of ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer. Because that is the chief ingredient in the IEDs the insurgents use, it is illegal to possess it. The Marines destroyed the fertilizer by dumping it in a ditch and soaking it with water.

The suspect was flex cuffed and put in the back of one of the armored vehicles. In truth, his father seemed more upset that the Marines confiscated several thousand dollars in Afghanistan and Pakistan currency than the arrest of his son.

As of this writing the son is still in custody.


  1. Bob, thanks for sharing reality on the other side of the world with us. Ron Johnson

  2. Marines in vehicles may walk away from an IED blast, but here at Bethesda Medical Center there are several Marines twisted by IED's while on foot patrol. My son is among them. He was with Alpha Company on May 24 in Salaam Bazaar when he stepped on a pressure plate (a Marine with a mine sweeper was right in front of him by the way) and detonated an IED. He lost his right leg, right thumb and sustained severe shrapnel and burn wounds to all his extremities. He is more fortunate than some here who have lost two, three, four limbs, sight, hearing, and brain function. The spirits of these young men though are stronger than anything the enemy can throw at them. Thank you Marines of Alpha Company for stopping these men who destroy bodies (but not the souls).