CAMP HURRICANE POINT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment are shifting more of the operational workload in the Al Anbar capital to the Iraqi Security Forces.
This increased mission responsibility, according to Sgt. Daniel A. Cochran, is the result of marked improvements shown by the ISF in their abilities to conduct security and stabilization operations.
Cochran, a rifleman and team leader with Company B’s Combined Action Platoon, which trains ISF and later employs them on Ramadi’s urban battlefield, said the ISF are developing into a force that “one day will be capable of taking full control of securing Ramadi without the Marines’ help.”
Cochran explained that platoon-sized elements of ISF – between 24 and 40 members – are now accompanying 1st Battalion, 5th Marines’ infantrymen on missions to quell the city’s insurgency and make it a safer place to live.
The infantry battalion, which is six months into its third rotation to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, tasked the CAP with the unique mission of training new ISF members a month after settling into the city.
During the past months, 21-year-old Cochran from Unionville, Va., and fellow Marines with the platoon have trained hundreds of ISF at their training base, Camp Ali.
After completing 12 days of training at the camp, between eight and 12 ISF and one or two Marines from the CAP would accompany elements of the infantry battalion on operations. The CAP Marines go along to “further hone ISF infantry skills,” said Cochran. “It’s on the job training.
“We support the battalion’s line companies with an ISF presence,” he said.
These newly trained ISF are now hitting the city’s streets conducting security and stability operations alongside Marines, explained Cochran.
“At first it was a small presence, and now it’s a large presence,” he said. “They’re getting better so we send more of them out at a time.”
After a month or so of on the job training, Cochran said, “The ISF soldiers are ready to go out in larger numbers and assume greater responsibilities.”
The platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Michael L. Burke, defined this method of employing the ISF as the “crawl, walk, run approach.”
“First we attached a squad of Iraqi soldiers to a platoon of our Marines and went on missions,” explained Burke, a 27-year-old from Foxboro, Mass. “That worked well, so now we switched it around and have a squad of Marines to a platoon of Iraqi soldiers out there.”
The ISF are now at the point where they’re leading foot patrols with Marines providing supervision.
“We let them choose their own route,” said Cochran “And we follow behind them to make sure they’re executing the patrol fundamentals we taught them. Their performance dictates whether we let them lead their own patrol or not. Over the course of a month after going through the camp they’re at the point to where they can do most of the patrolling and searching houses and personnel by themselves.”
Thirty “seasoned” ISF led Cochran and other 1st Squad Marines on a two-hour foot patrol through a portion of the city. The operation kicked off at 6 a.m. with the ISF leading the Marines from the camp here through several neighborhoods. The ISF searched several houses, vehicles and Iraqi civilians during the undertaking.
Towards the end of the patrol, a car tried to drive down a street the ISF and Marines were patrolling. In an effort to prevent the vehicle – a potential car-bomb – from disrupting the patrol, several ISF members jumped into action by warning the oncoming vehicle to halt by bringing their AK-47s to a ready to fire position. The driver immediately stopped, turned around and headed the opposite direction.
Cochran, who’s on his first enlistment and in Iraq for his second time, commented on how the ISF performed.
“They did well today,” he said. “The executed the proper procedure with the car. From what I saw from behind, they took control of the situation. They still need guidance, but they remembered most everything we taught them and executed procedures well.”
The ISF are also a good source of information on patrols, said Cochran.
“They speak Arabic and can talk to the people out here in town and find out about (insurgent activity) and other things easier than Marines can,” he said. “The people warm up to them better than they do to us. The people like having their own soldiers protect them, so they’re more open to the ISF.”
Cochran added the ISF bring more to the table than just people skills.
“A lot of times they can distinguish who’re foreign fighters and vehicles that are out of town,” he said, adding their attention to detail goes much further. “They pick up on things that are out of place. Like where an IED (improvised explosive device) may be buried. They can distinguish insurgent propaganda that’s often spray painted on walls throughout the city.”
Cochran said he’s confident the ISF will eventually assume full control of securing Ramadi.
“As long as they keep improving,” he said, “the Marine presence will be minimized and one day done away with altogether. I’m glad to be a part of training the ISF because it’s an important mission.”