BORDER FORT NINE, Iraq --
As the Marines from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment pulled up to Fort 11 on Iraq’s border with Syria Jan. 10, the Iraqi border police began squaring away their uniforms and preparing for a joint patrol.
The Marines of 2/25 are working with Marines of Border Transition Team 4222 and U.S. border security contractors to provide mentorship and operational overwatch of the Iraqi border police here.
The Iraqi forces charged with interdicting smugglers and insurgents along the Syrian border in this region are from 2nd Battalion, 5th Iraqi Brigade, 2nd Region, which falls under the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad.
Iraqi border patrolmen in al-Anbar province, commonly referred to as the “Desert Wolves,” spend much of their time “dragging” certain areas on their side of the country’s border with Syria, using specially-constructed equipment to smooth out the sand and rocks across the barren desert surface.
The purpose of dragging is to remove the old tracks in the sand along the large dirt berm which delineates the border between the two countries, and to loosen up the dirt. That way, when they return on the next patrol, they can determine if smugglers or other illegal persons have committed cross-border incursions, according to Capt. Michael Diaz, the officer in charge of the BTT.
“We initially got them started on this type of operation, and now they’re doing fairly well without us,” said Diaz, 28, of Bethesda, Md.
Diaz explained that his team has also been conducting specialized training, such as police ethics, human rights, emergency medicine, detainee handling and Marine Corps Martial Arts with the Iraqi Security Forces.
Because this training is more time-consuming, Diaz’ team has not been able to get out to all the forts as often as they’d like to in order to supervise the Iraqis’ patrols and provide helpful feedback.
The Marines from Company G, based at Combat Outpost Akashat about 50 kilometers away, have therefore come to assist the BTT in their mission.
“The challenge has been getting the Iraqis to patrol and drag every day,” said Diaz. “The Iraqi commander here understands their mission. The leadership aspect is getting better, because on both the officer and (staff non-commissioned officer) sides, we have taught them about the onus of responsibility, the burden of command. As a commander, you can’t always be the nice guy.”
On Jan 11, the Marines from Company G escorted the Desert Wolves of Border Forts #10 and #11 in dragging the dirt area adjacent to the berm.
Razak Abid Farhan, 40, was the senior patrolman at Border Fort #11, the Marines’ first stop. A Dawyina native, Farhan has worked for four years in the border police after serving 10 years in the Iraqi Army prior to 2003.
“It is our duty to protect the border from any terrorists and also to announce the alarm for any danger,” said Farhan through interpretation. “We protect the country from smugglers and keep the area safe and quiet. We got a lot of important information and training from Coalition forces in the past years, and we have the experience and ability to secure the border now. In a short time, we have created peace and stability here in al-Anbar.”
After dragging for several hours with the troopers of Border Fort #11, the Marine patrol moved on to Border Fort #10, about 20 kilometers away.
Wasaam Kathem Alwan, 29, was the senior patrolman on duty there. A Baghdad native, Alwan said he joined the Desert Wolves five years ago to protect his country from those who were working to destabilize the fledgling democracy.
“There is no danger; no complications here in al-Anbar now,” said Alwan. “Different tribes are putting their hands together to solve their problems. We are all committed to the future of our country.”
Cpl. Eugene Hwang, 25, of Cresskill, N.J., a squad leader with Weapons Platoon, Company G, was the patrol leader for the operation.
“We’re at that point in the war where we’re starting to give control of everything back to the Iraqis…. Two years ago we were trying to do this, and now it is finally happening,” said Hwang, a federal officer in New York City who saw more than 20 firefights during his 2006 deployment to al-Anbar province with 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.
During this most recent tour, however, Hwang has not heard one shot fired in anger in more than four months of patrols and other security operations.
“The last time I was here, we were essentially parenting them on patrols, and now they’re doing all the work. We just stand to the side now and evaluate how they perform. We have finally cut the umbilical cord.”