Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher Flurry
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The military intelligence community of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) said they are finding new ways to stay ahead of insurgents in Afghanistan.
New software now enables the Marine Corps intelligence analysts to more quickly survey a suspected insurgent’s past activity and social ties, with the goal of providing a more accurate forecast of what he may do in the future, explained Cpl. Oscar Machuca, an intelligence analyst for the deployed wing.
“We can more easily recreate historical events so that we can better make decisions about the future,” said Machuca, a Pecos, Texas, native. “It’s able to link what they’ve done. It’s able to link criminal activity. I try not to make assumptions, I make assessments.”
The assessments Machuca and the other aircraft wing intelligence analysts make go to help pilots in determining the threat of a particular location before they fly there. Machuca said he typically spends his time analyzing helicopter landing zones so that aircrews are aware of any insurgent activity that may be going on at any given time.
“It’s important [the pilots] know where the biggest threat is,” said Machuca. “That way they know if they’ll need escorts, or if it’s a more secure location.”
Machuca said the intelligence products the Marines prepare are provided to the squadrons supporting the aircraft wing for various missions, from close-air support to troop insertions and extractions.
“When they rely on us, they’re putting the pilots’ lives in our hands,” said Sgt. John Panakal, an intelligence analyst with 2nd MAW (Fwd.), and a native of Miami. “That’s a good thing, because that’s what we’re here for.”
Additionally, based on the data they acquire and analyze using the new software, the military intelligence Marines are also able to assist combined ground and air forces in southwestern Afghanistan in pinpointing, and neutralizing, enemy threats.
“Over the past month, we were able to take out a major threat, based on our assessments,” said Machuca, who like most of the aircraft wing’s intelligence Marines is deployed to Camp Leatherneck from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
The incident, according to Gunnery Sgt. Moises Vilca, concerned removing a weapon from insurgent hands, which could have been detrimental to aircraft, Marines, and their Afghan and coalition partners operating in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
“We’re responsible for that Marine, for that [private first class], and for keeping him alive,” he said.
Vilca, an intelligence analyst chief with 2nd MAW (Fwd.), said neutralizing the threat was a combined effort of Marines aviators, ground troops, and the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Fusing – it was successful because of the coordination of ground, air and ISR assets,” said Vilca, who is also a Miami native.
The weapon’s position was tracked by both ground troops and UAVs, and it was destroyed by the precision-guided bombs of a Marine Corps attack jet.
Vilca said in addition to working closely with Marines on the ground, he sees value in giving the aircraft wing’s analysts experience with ground units. So instead of relying only on modern techniques of intelligence collation, the Marines also travel to the various areas they support to see those locations first hand.
“Going to ground, it helps you to have a new perspective,” said Machuca, who recently spent time in Kajaki with U.S. Marines operating there.
“It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to meet that person in charge of the battlespace,” said Vilca, who is on his fifth deployment, having four previous tours in Iraq. “That’s where the COIN [counterinsurgency] is right now, on the ground level, on the company level.”
In addition to working in close concert with other Marines both in the air and on the ground, the 2nd MAW (Fwd.) analysts said they also must work hand-in-hand across Afghanistan with other NATO International Security Assistance Force partners.
“When we have the extra coordination and intelligence, it makes us that much more effective,” said Vilca. “Working together helps in the overall mission of the coalition.”
That overall mission, Vilca said, is to help create a safer, more stable home for the people of Afghanistan.
“To remove insurgents off the battlefield and protect the civilian population,” Vilca said. “That is one less bad guy they have to worry about. It’s about letting people live normal lives.”