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Civilians to guard Marine base in Afghanistan

Dec. 28, 2011 - 05:23AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 28, 2011 - 05:23AM  |  
Base security at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, soon will fall to civilian contractors as the Marine footprint downrange shrinks.
Base security at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, soon will fall to civilian contractors as the Marine footprint downrange shrinks. (Cpl. Adam Leyendecker / Marine Corps)
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Civilians guarding Camp Leatherneck

U.S. commanders want civilian contractors to provide military security at the Marine Corps' largest base in Afghanistan as a planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from the war-torn country expands.

The contracted security personnel will guard Camp Leatherneck, the sprawling, 1,500-acre-plus installation that serves as the Corps' main hub of operations in Helmand province and home to II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), commanded by Maj. Gen. John Toolan. To date, coalition forces have handled security at Leatherneck, but commanders have discussed using contractors for months in anticipation of a smaller Marine footprint, said Lt. Col. Riccoh Player, a Marine spokesman at Leatherneck.

"As we prepare for fewer Marine boots on the ground, the requirement to maintain a certain level of security aboard Camp Leatherneck must be maintained," Player said. "That's where contractor support will provide Camp Leatherneck security where Marines have in the past."

U.S. Army Contracting Command announced a competition for the job in November. At least 166 civilian guards will be needed at all times, meaning the company that wins the contract will almost certainly need more to account for vacations and other leave time. Companies who seek the job must hire guards who are citizens of the U.S. or some of its closest allies: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Base security at Leatherneck has been performed primarily by a reserve infantry battalion, currently 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, out of Fort Devens, Mass. However, as part of the drawdown, the Corps already has canceled the deployment of a replacement unit, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, out of Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. Marines with 1/24 would have replaced 1/25 in theater next year.

The civilian guards posting security must have a secret security clearance issued by either the U.S. or the International Security Assistance Force headed by Marine Gen. John Allen, according to documents released in the competition.

Personnel will be expected to wear body armor, man security towers and be familiar with the M16A4 rifle, M4 carbine and M9 pistol, plus crew-served weapons such as the M240B heavy machine gun and M2 .50-caliber machine gun. A typical workweek will last up to 72 hours, military documents said.

Broader mission unclear

The solicitation to industry said establishment of an ammunition supply center and expansion of Leatherneck has prompted additional perimeter security requirements there. It's unclear who will handle security at other large forward operating bases in 2012.

Marines with 1/25 handle security at not only Leatherneck but at Camp Dwyer and Camp Delaram II, both of which are home to regimental combat team headquarters that fall under II MEF (Fwd.).

Dwyer, in Garmser district, is home to Regimental Combat Team 5, overseeing infantry operations in central Helmand. Delaram II is just across the Helmand border in Nimroz province, and home to RCT-8. It oversees infantry operations in northern Helmand, including in volatile Sangin and Kajaki districts.

There is no requirement for civilian contractors to provide security at Dwyer or Delaram, Player said. The contract competition mentions work only at Leatherneck.

Marines with 1/25 also provide security in locations outside the wire near large forward operating bases. One example is "Soak City," a shantytown about a half-mile outside the north gate of Leatherneck. Named after the so-called "soak lot" at the Helmand Regional Distribution Center, it popped up because merchants and scavengers were attracted to the possibility of selling goods to truck drivers who deliver supplies to Leatherneck, Marine commanders said. It's unclear who may get that mission after 1/25 returns to the U.S.

Posting security at Leatherneck has proved to be a mostly peaceful endeavor. Established in the desert primarily in Helmand's Washir district, the base is isolated from other population centers. Kandahar Airfield, another major FOB in neighboring Kandahar province, has been attacked with rockets and coordinated ground attacks, but the military has not experienced similar high-profile problems at Leatherneck.

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