HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- The Marines were on the constant move against insurgents in Al Anbar province, Iraq since their deployment to Iraq last October. Temporarily assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), helped provide security for the main supply routes in the desert lands of western Iraq near Syria and Jordan.
Then in early November, their mission changed as 3rd Platoon, or ‘3rd Herd,’ moved north to the city of Al Qaim, Iraq, near the Syrian border, in preparation for Operation Steel Curtain.
At the Marine base at Al Qaim, the unit began prepping for battle even though few knew of the mission ahead. Company and platoon commanders attended their briefs and eventually passed along information to their men, as corporals and sergeants went over small unit tactics and house clearing measures.
“I felt prepared,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Samel, 19, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., an infantryman and radio operator for 3rd Platoon, later recalling the efforts in bringing their training up to speed. “The Marines who had been here before taught us the things we really needed to know.”
On the night of Nov. 4, 3rd Platoon and most of the battalion were on the move.
The battle for Husaybah
Dawn broke on the 5th with Companies F and G and troops from the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the reconstituted Iraqi Army assaulting insurgents entrenched in the border city of Husaybah. Marine Cobra gunship helicopters were seen strafing insurgent targets and Coalition fighter jets flew high above dropping precision guided munitions against suspected terrorist sites as troops moved from the west.
As the battle unfolded, 3rd Platoon and the rest of Company E were held in reserve at an assembly area just outside the city.
Minus the modern air support, the view of battle from the assembly area looked similar to an American Civil War battlefield. U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops on foot moved in varied formations through open terrain towards the railroad town. The city skyline was spiked with the sight of rising smoke plumes and the sounds of explosions and gunfire were audible over its streets.
Third Platoon and Company E moved up to the front lines on the evening of Nov. 6. For the next several days, they methodically moved forward clearing buildings as Companies F and G had done and engaging insurgents and suspected improvised explosive devices.
‘Back blast area, all clear’
As the fight continued into its third day, air support still lingered above providing precision air strikes to the troops on the ground. The roar of the heavy machine guns from helicopter gun ships was heard and lead was seen raining down on insurgent hideouts as flares were dropped from the aircraft to confuse enemy anti-aircraft missiles.
“The fighting and pushing into houses has been pretty strong,” said 2nd Lt. Erik R. Sallee, 24, of Oklahoma City, the 6-foot-5, platoon commander of 3rd Platoon. “The tank support and air cover has helped us.”
On a drive through the city in the back of a ‘highback’ humvee up to the frontlines, the destruction laid down by the fight against those who had occupied the town was evident. The eyes of Marines inside the vehicles darted to and from shattered buildings watching for enemy snipers. Reports before the offensive had indicated foreign fighters trained as snipers took refuge in the city. The Marines took no chances.
At the frontline, the combat environment was remarkably controlled. The Marines and the Iraqi troops attached to them moved up through Husaybah’s city grid in a methodical fashion taking out any insurgents that fought and clearing homes of weapons.
“The Iraqi troops are motivated,” said Sallee. “They’ve really wanted to get up front all day.”
Pushing ahead, Marines and their Iraqi allies refused to risk their lives walking by abandoned vehicles possibly loaded with explosives. Marine heavy weapon teams engaged the cars as a security precaution.
“Back blast area all clear,” yelled a Marine aiming an AT-4 anti-tank rocket towards a possible vehicle-borne IED. And in an instant the vehicle was charred rubble.
The Marines from 3rd Platoon continued to move forward taking occasional sniper fire. Scores of enemy small arms, mortar rounds used to make IEDs and other weapons were confiscated in addition to the capture of dozens of insurgents.
“We’ve pushed major insurgent activity out of the city, and we significantly decreased the insurgents’ combat power with all the weapons we found and confiscated,” said Sallee, summing up the push in Husaybah. “We also captured known insurgents who have coordinated and participated in attacks against Coalition Forces.”
The offensive continued into Karabilah.