WESTERN AL ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – -- U.S. Marines serving in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq, spent nearly three weeks finding significant traces of insurgent activity in a stretch of 40 km. along the Euphrates River Valley, here.
Task Force 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.,-based battalion, launched an 18-day battalion-level operation Dec. 29, 2006, in an effort to disrupt insurgent activity along the Euphrates River Valley in the eastern region of the battalion’s area of combat operations, several miles east of the Iraq-Syria border.
The battalion successfully completed the operation Jan 15, 2006. As a result, roughly 15 weapons and munitions caches were discovered and later destroyed by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines from the task force. Nine improvised explosive devices were also found and later rendered safe by EOD technicians during the operation.
“We disrupted [insurgent] activity. We denied him a place to operate. We’ve deprived him of supplies he needs to target Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces,” said Maj. Joseph M. Turgeon, the battalion operations officer and a 34-year-old Cathlamet, Wash., native.
Since their arrival in September, the battalion has been conducting combat operations consisting of foot patrols and vehicle patrols in many Euphrates River cities and villages that lie here. They’ve also been tasked with mentoring and monitoring the Iraqi Security Forces in the region in an endeavor to help them become a force that can man their country on their own.
Marines serving in the eastern part of the battalion’s area of combat operations have reported many incidents of insurgent activity since their arrival here, said India Company Marines.
The operation took place in this region because it’s an area that hasn’t had much Coalition presence. The Euphrates River has been an obstacle that Marines have difficulty operating around, and it seems the insurgents have exploited it, said Turgeon.
“The significance of this area is that it’s a gateway for insurgents – most that come from Hit and Rawah,” said 1st Sgt. Ryan F. Blue, India Company, 3/4’s, senior enlisted Marine from Omaha, Neb.
The battalion’s India Company and Weapons Company kicked off the operation patrolling through the battalion’s area of combat operations’ most eastern cities and pushed west. They also left their outposts and spent the cold winter days and nights living in abandoned or unoccupied buildings in the villages to maintain a convenient position in each village or city. The focus of their patrols: to find traces of insurgent activity.
In the villages just south of the Euphrates River, India Company also conducted census patrols, attaining information of the villages’ inhabitants by patrolling from house-to-house and speaking with the residents.
The purpose of the census patrols was to get information on the villages’ residents and the environment they live in, said Cpl. Eleazar Claudio of India Company.
“In the future, if these males where ever to show up on a high valued target list, we know where they live and who they live with,” said the 22-year-old squad leader from San Antonio who led his group of Marines during the patrols.
Another objective for the patrols was to flush insurgents away from the Euphrates River – a popular avenue used by the insurgents, said Claudio.
Blue said he was well aware of the insurgents’ movements, referring to insurgents coming to this region from the east and north of the Euphrates, and crossing over the river to set up IED attacks or hide weapons and munitions.
“Just as planned, they’ll [insurgents] get scared when we come through,” said Claudio, who also believed his company of Marines is a reason why the insurgency is leaving the Euphrates River Valley.
Just two days into the operation, four IEDs were found and rendered safe in New Ubaydi and Nazwah, two of the dozens of cities that lie in this Sunni populated region of western Iraq.
Up until the very last days of the operation, hundreds of machine gun rounds, dozens of mortar or artillery rounds and IED making materials were discovered not far from the river banks of the Euphrates.
“Everything we found and all the information we gathered was a result of combined efforts,” said Claudio. “Every single set of eyes, ears and boots [contributed] by kicking up trash, looking in holes, searching houses and asking questions.”
Marine reservists serving with 4th Combat Engineer Battalion claimed several of the finds after patrolling with metal detectors. “Borris,” a 7-year-old military working dog, handled by Cpl. Nathaniel L. Jordan, a 20-year-old from Ellsworth, Maine, also sniffed out hidden weapons and munitions in and around houses.
Marines also found cell phones with base stations and a cache containing five panes of bullet proof glass. Although an awkward find to some, the Marines confiscated the items.
“If we find something we think the Iraqi’s don’t need, we’ll take it,” said Cpl. Timothy Casteel, a 25-year-old squad leader from Arlington, Texas, who led his Marines during a patrol that discovered the cache of bullet proof glass panes. “Regardless of what we think the insurgents might use it for, it’s one less item they have to use against us.”
By keeping the weapons, ordnance and materials the Marines found out of the hands of the insurgents, hopefully lives of Coalition forces and Iraqi Security Forces who operate in this area in the future will be less at risk, said Turgeon.
Even though the civilians of the villages and cities have, until recently, been caught between insurgent activity and Coalition Forces’ operations, Turgeon said he hopes they too become more comfortable with the Marines’ presence in their land.
“Perhaps they [Iraqi civilians] will be more comfortable commenting on what’s been going on over there,” said Turgeon.
After 18 days of patrolling through dirt streets, farmland, pine groves and the Euphrates River bank, the Marines of India Company and Weapons Company executed thorough searches of roughly 20 villages, which lie a short distance north or south of the river.
“We patrolled in small groups trying to bait insurgents to attack us – nothing happened,” said Claudio. “In the mean time, we [gathered] a lot of information from the males that live in these villages and found of equipment that belonged to insurgents. I think we did [well], and that’s what we’re here for.”
After President George W. Bush afforded the battalion more time for combat operations by extending their deployment 60 to 90 days, the Marines here say they anticipate less insurgent activity along the Euphrates River Valley here, and more time to gain the “hearts and minds” of the innocent civilians who live and work in the area.