MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE -- The Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of the 2nd Marine Division returned home today after completing a successful year-long deployment in western Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
The division conducted combined counter-insurgency operations alongside its Iraqi Security Force counterparts from March 2005 to February 2006 and transferred authority of the province to the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) before returning to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The 2nd Marine Division was the ground combat element for II MEF (FWD) and was supported by 2nd Marine Logistics Group (FWD) and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
In addition to commanding the 2nd Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck took command of II MEF (FWD) from Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson as they transferred operational control and authority of the Al Anbar province with a simple handshake ceremony Jan. 31.
The division also focused its efforts on training, integrating and operating with Iraqi Security Forces.
“The work done by these young Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen was superb,” said Huck. “Everyone who contributed, including families, friends and loved ones who supported us, helped write a new chapter in Marine Corps history. They should be proud of their accomplishments.”
Bringing security to the province hasn’t been easy. The thousands of square miles of terrain bordering Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia has posed a significant challenge to the division. To seal off the porous Iraq-Syria border became a key mission for the division.
Insurgents would transport men, money and material across the border and work their way down the Euphrates River from western to central Iraq. From there, insurgents would attack indiscriminately killing Iraqi citizens, Iraqi soldiers and police and Coalition Forces.
It was the division’s mission to help strangle al Qaeda in Iraq’s logistical support. So through a series of operations in western Al Anbar beginning in early summer and ending in the late fall, the division focused its efforts.
“We had a lot of success out west because the population finally realized that al Qaeda in Iraq has nothing to offer them,” said Huck. “Up and down the Euphrates River, from cities such as Husaybah, Karabilah, Ubaydi, Rawah, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi to Fallujah, the division took the fight to the insurgents and terrorists denying them any base of operation or area to rest.”
The 2nd Marine Division did not go it alone during these operations. It was a strategy of “clear and hold,” sweeping through towns and rooting out insurgents and their weapons caches alongside Iraqi Army counterparts.
“One of the keys to successfully rout out the insurgents was the integration of Iraqi Forces alongside the Marines and Soldiers,” explained Huck. “Once the division and Iraqi Forces cleared the area of weapons and insurgents, we had to stay and set up a long-term security presence to show the citizens that we were there to provide security and ensure stability.”
The “train, integrate and operate” philosophy in working with the Iraqi Forces is beginning to pay dividends. When the division first arrived in 2005, there were limited Iraqi Security Forces, which were centered on the population centers of Fallujah and Ramadi. Just one year later, approximately 24,000 Iraqi men are now in uniform preparing to take over security roles across Al Anbar.
Strengthening the physical security in the numerous cities and towns in Al Anbar was brought about through the continuous training and recruitment of Iraqi civilians willing to fill the ranks and files of the Iraqi Army and to work the streets as police officers and highway patrolman. Iraqi border security units also worked to stop the flow of weapons, men and materials across the Iraqi border.
The division took the lead on numerous operations during the year, but when it came to providing security for the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum in October and the National Elections in December, it was Iraqi Security Forces squarely out front. In June 2004 the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government.
The citizens of Al Anbar for the most part stayed away from the polls in January of 2005 when Iraqis elected a Transitional Government, but in October 2005, they took their first timid steps toward democracy. By the December elections, the majority stepped up to the polls to vote.
The Iraqi Security Forces proved that they were up to the task with only a minimum of violence taking place province wide.
The citizens’ outpouring of support for their national government spurred extra emphasis in the division’s efforts to help mentor and coach the local fledgling democracies cropping up throughout the province.
Through the use of civil affairs teams across the province the division was able to engage both the people and local government leaders to turn the tide against the insurgency and diminish its ability to continue its aggressive terror and intimidation campaign.
“The work accomplished here will not be forgotten, nor will our fallen brothers’ and sisters’ sacrifices go unremembered,” said Huck. “History will record our deeds and sacrifices, and we will know that we were part of that history.”