CAMP DEFENDER, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- U.S. military forces in conjunction with Iraqi Army soldiers conducted Operation Lions here recently.
The operation was conducted in order to root out insurgents and their weapons caches in Tammim which has been plagued with routine sniper and mortar fire.
The sweep turned up numerous weapons, propaganda and bomb making materials as well as several suspected insurgents. However, most importantly, the operation represented a major milestone for the Iraqi battalion that took part in the operation.
“This operation was a watershed moment for the battalion. This has been the first battalion level operation that was planned and executed entirely on their own,” said the battalion’s Military Transition Team commander and Bloomfield, N.J., native, Maj. John Armellino. “The Iraqi’s controlled their own battalion size battle space without support from coalition forces.”
Although the battalion’s sector of the city was relatively small covering only a 200 by 1000 meter area, the significance of the operation proved to be much greater in proportion. Many questions were raised about paring down U.S. forces in Iraq and the abilities of the Iraqi Army units training to replace them.
Since the Operation Iraqi Freedom began , U.S. and Coalition Forces have had little more than three years to piece together an Iraqi military force capable of bringing security and stability to its country. Despite this limited time frame, enormous efforts were made in pursuit of this goal. Currently in Iraq, there are ten Iraqi divisions in various stages of capability. In the Al Anbar province, which is roughly the size of North Carolina, there are two.
Armellino’s battalion comprises nearly an eighth of that force. His small team of U.S. advisors have worked in the Al Anbar provincial capital city of Ar Ramadi with their Iraqi battalion since February. They’ve focused on steady progression for the past eight months. Small steps were the norm, but Lions constituted a giant leap toward there end goal of getting the battalion fully operational and free from the helping hand of U.S. forces.
“This was the battalions coming out party,” Armellino said. “They got a chance to ruffle their feathers a little. They had a few hick-ups along the way, but they showed they were able to overcome any difficulties and still continue to operate.”
Perhaps even more significant than the battalion’s progress was the image projected to the citizens of Ar Ramadi. For months, local Iraqis have seen Iraqi soldiers patrolling their streets and manning vehicle checkpoints, but all under the constant supervision of U.S. troops. Lions showed an Iraqi Force working independently.
“In order for this nation to restore its national sovereignty, it has to restore its national pride,” Armellio said. “Much of the pride and honor of a country stems from its military. A strong military shows resolve and through resolve people see hope.”
Armellino said he has hope for the future of Iraq and for its army. The battalion of Iraqi soldiers he trains on a daily basis is a constant reminder of what lies ahead in Iraq’s future. Although local terrorists and insurgents have used the densely populated city to their advantage by attacking U.S. forces then blending into the population, Armellino said he has faith the insurgency can be quelled and that Iraqi soldiers are best suited to do it.
“The Iraqi soldiers have the innate ability to understand the enemy,” Armellino said. “They know what they think and what they look like. They have a distinct advantage over U.S. forces here. They can go down a street and point out who belongs and who doesn’t. They know the difference between a Syrian and an Iraqi by the way they look and their accent and mannerisms. They point to an individual and say he’s not from around here or he’s not from Ar Ramadi.”
He doesn’t underestimate the insurgency here but takes stock in the fact that he only has to train his Iraqi soldiers to be better than the enemy they will be fighting.
“Our enemy is talented and I think the Iraqi leaders and soldiers understand that,” Armellino said. “We’re here to make them better than the insurgency. As long as we can continue to do that, they will be successful.”