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Photo Information

THAR THAR REGION, Iraq - Pfc. Thomas Rubel, a rifleman with 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, uses a scope atop his rifle to scan the desert horizons here June 18. Rubel's unit was one which participated in Operation Dagger, a five-day long effort to rid regions north of Fallujah of insurgent activity.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

1/6 slices through insurgency during Operation Khanjar

22 Jun 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

When the clock struck noon here June 18, the sun blazed overhead baking the barren Iraqi sands and the dust-covered military troop transports rolling through them. Lance Cpl. Bee Thao and Marines from his squad sat packed like human sardines inside the belly of the Assault Amphibian Vehicle, sweat dripping out of every pore creating mini pools of darkness on their already soiled desert camouflage utility uniforms. The 24-year-old infantryman from Charlotte, N.C. was one of 12 Marines enduring the bumpy ride and the loud growls their vehicle’s engine produced. They sat together, shoulder to shoulder, feet resting atop each other’s packs and empty, crushed water bottles, sweat glistening on their foreheads and atop their knuckles. “It’s like the water I drink doesn’t even go into my bladder anymore; it just pours out my skin,” commented one flustered Marine sitting next to Thao. Nevertheless, the troops did what Marines are trained to do: endure pain and discomfort to accomplish the mission. The Marines of 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment rolled out before sunrise that morning alongside hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and fellow Marines, sailors and soldiers to search the deserts north of Fallujah during Operation Khanjar, the Arabic word for ‘dagger’. From June 18 to 22, Iraqi Security Forces along with several Marine and Army units which searched through 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s northern security zone’s wastelands for weapons, explosive materials and insurgent activity. The battalion’s Company B served as the main searching element. Mechanized infantrymen from a tank unit searched the regions to their east, while Army units and two of 1st Battalion’s Combined Anti-Armor Teams held defensive positions to the south, southwest and northeast to regulate traffic entering and exiting the area. “We’re helping the ISF look for weapons caches and terrorists,” explained Thao, a former student of criminal justice at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. “Our goal was to stop the insurgents’ ability to use these areas for keeping and storing weapons.” To accomplish this, elements from Thao’s unit mounted AAVs the morning of June 18 and rode north for several kilometers into the wastelands outside of Fallujah. According to Maj. Joseph Jones, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s executive officer, there is minimal Coalition and Iraqi military presence throughout this area. For this reason, insurgents might have used it freely for arms storage and transportation. “Insurgents push out of the city into regions north of Fallujah,” he continued. “We believed they could’ve used the area as a safe haven to stash caches.” To search these areas, Thao and the troops would periodically dismount their AAVs and rummage through buildings encountered on their desert trek, many of which lay in ruins as a result of previous conflicts here. During the first two days of Khanjar Company B personnel also scoured the shorelines of Thar Thar Lake, a body of water located northwest of the desert the Marines were exploring. There, Iraqi soldiers and U.S. troops would search through the fishermen’s boats and tents, as well as question the sparse populace as to whether they had witnessed any insurgent activity in the area. From June 20 to 22, the units began retrograding toward their home bases in and around Fallujah and Ramadi. The troops fanned out and swept through the desert, walking for miles behind their AAVs. Periodically, Marine and Army engineers would use metal detectors to determine if any weapons lay beneath the ruins or dirt mounds scattered about these fields. “I think it’s good that we do these kinds of disruption missions,” Thao stated. “It lets the insurgents know that we’re still around, and that helps us stop their activities in the long run.” Khanjar concluded the morning of June 22. All together, the troops had detained several suspected insurgent supporters and discovered numerous weapons caches and forms of anti-Coalition propaganda. The caches contained items such as 120mm mortar rounds, 155mm artillery shells, rocket propelled grenade warheads, and mortar fuses. Insurgents have been using all of these materials to create improvised explosive devices, currently one of the deadliest weapons insurgents use in Iraq. “We disrupted any possible insurgent activity in the area, and have a better picture of what’s up there now,” Jones stated. “Once again, we’ve proven our ability to be flexible as a task force, and our ability to move and maneuver Marine and Iraqi forces. This was in line with our overall mission of conducting security and stability operations in our area.” First Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel continue battling the insurgency throughout the northern Fallujah region.