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Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.

3/4 cripples terrorists on strategic level

28 Apr 2005 | Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr. 2nd Marine Division

Multiple companies of Iraqi soldiers and more than 200 Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment conducted Operation Southern Advance, April 24-28.The sizeable force moved approximately 18 miles south of Fallujah into the area of Amariyah where the units suspected terrorists were hiding and planning attacks on the people of Iraq and coalition forces.The battalion also believed the area contained weapons caches large enough to support local terrorist activity; but, during this four-day operation, the battalion found more than it expected.“It’s what our reports said, but usually they are a little overblown,” said Capt. Michael J. Bissonette, the 37-year-old battalion intelligence officer. This time the report was not overblown. After capturing an individual attempting to flee the area, Marines and Iraqi soldiers began a thorough sweep of the homes and surrounding lands.The battalion’s combat engineers easily found the first cache; the second was stumbled upon…literally.“One of the Marines tripped over a lock in the ground,” said Capt. Randal M. Walsh, the Company I commander. “It revealed a trap door and the next cache.”The initial two finds, coupled with the confirmation of multiple caches in the area by the captured terrorist, led to an exhaustive search by the battalion’s combat engineers that uncovering more than 15 caches over the following three days. “We’d find one cache, start digging it up and by the time we were done we’d find another one,” said Cpl. Andrew T. Simmons, 22-year-old combat engineer with 3rd Platoon, Delta Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, currently attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines.More than one of the caches was easily accessible and ready to be used at a moment’s notice, while others were buried deep in the ground.“They had everything from stuff to use right now, to caches for use in the distant future,” said Bissonette, a native of Brockport, N.Y.As the operation neared its end, the battalion had unearthed more than 40,000 pounds of weapons, ammunition and explosives, according to the combat engineer platoon.The final toll of weapons and ordnance found included: 4,887 mortar rounds, more than 4,500 pounds of explosives, more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition (7.62mm, .50 caliber), 569 rocket propelled grenades, 234 artillery rounds, 931 hand grenades and land mines, 35 rifles (AK-47, bolt action, sniper), 14 machine guns (including two anti-aircraft), 38 rocket propelled grenade launchers and large amounts of improvised explosive devices, materials and improvised weapons.According to Walsh, the days spent removing the weapons and supplies from the area served as a reminder, to the Marines, of their purpose in Iraq.“This is what we came here to do, fight the terrorists,” Walsh said, “and removing their weapons and ammunition is part of that.”The battalion believes the destruction of such a large piece of the terrorist’s arsenal will hurt enemy operations on a strategic level, according to Bissonette.“It’s definitely a significant find,” said Capt. Sean K. Butler, the 36-year-old future operations officer for the battalion and native of Mt. Shasta, Calif. “Who knows how many lives were saved by taking all that ordnance out of the picture.”