SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq --
The area of northern Saqlawiyah, Iraq, was flooded with Coalition Forces the day the Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, blockaded a portion of a local river during an operation which led to the capture of more than 20,000 pounds of homemade explosives.
The “First of the First” battalion, along with other coalition units and Iraqi policemen, conducted Operation Texas, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.
The combined operation, involving the Army’s 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, the Marines’ 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and the “First of the First,” concentrated on northern Saqlawiyah, an area which had not seen significant coalition presence in months. The operation was aimed at forcing insurgents and their murder and intimidation campaign out of the quiet agricultural community, where they hide, and into the hands of coalition forces.
The region concealed the staging of insurgent operations and was used for weapons and equipment storage, as well as organizing attacks against the coalition and Iraqi forces in the local area. 1st Lt. Alistair E. Howard, first platoon’s commander, described the attack as a classic hammer-and-anvil tactic that gave the insurgents no way out.
“We are pinching and constricting,” said Howard. “5/7 is coming from the north, pushing through our AO toward the blocking positions, while 3/1 pushes from the northeast toward us also. Company B is reinforcing the blocking positions and pushing. We also have EOD and air support working with us.”
The Iraqi police assisted throughout, working their way door to door, greeting and questioning the local populace.
While patrolling through the lush landscape near the river, Marines and IPs discovered weapons caches containing everything from automatic weapons to high explosives. Material used for making IEDs was also found. With the help of EOD and the swarm of Marines who saturated the area, they were able to defuse a number of existing IEDs before they detonated, preventing many injuries to coalition forces and civilian personnel.
The sound of IEDs being detonated by EOD interrupted Cpl. Keith V. Pulley, a squad leader with Company C, as he explained how he felt the operation was going.
“This operation is turning out to be successful,” said the 21-year-old, Oroville, Calif., native. “It makes me feel good that we are getting this off the streets, especially when I hear the controlled detonations. Its like, ‘That’s one IED that isn’t going to hit a vehicle.’”
Pulley, a 2004 Oroville High School graduate, and his Marines, were manning the blocking positions on the road running along the Karma River here. All paths that units made led toward Pulley’s blocking position.
Lance Cpl. Jonathan S. Baker, a squad automatic weapons gunner with Company C, sat in overwatch, keeping an eye out over the road, the Karma River and the fields of the area, as he manned his turret-mounted machinegun. The 19-year-old Bastrop, Texas, native watched for fires, smoke or signals from other units, but most of all he watched for insurgents.
“I’m really glad everything went so well and we found so many IEDs,” said Baker. “That’s one less they can hit us with. I enjoy being out here during this operation, because this is what I joined the Marine Corps to do, to be on the ground on the front lines of the fight.”
The Marines of 1st Bn., 1st Marines, were indeed on the front lines. The area was one of the few remaining insurgent pockets left around Habbaniyah. The “First of The First” battalion and Operation Texas just made life for insurgents working in the Anbar Province even tougher.