ALBU FLEISS, Iraq -- The tribal awakening in Al Anbar made an enormous impact on an operation by Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, recently.
“We clearly see that the Iraqi citizens have grown tired of what the insurgency has to offer; they do not want any part of it,” said Brig. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, ground forces commander for Multinational Force West, during a recent news conference.
This weariness aided the “Teufelhunden” Battalion, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., when they swept the countryside around this town south of Fallujah May 4. Local residents turned out to point the Marines toward caches and alerted them to homemade bombs, called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, during their patrols.
“The Iraqi people are starting to realize that, unlike the Ottoman Empire or the British occupiers, the American military is not a military of occupation,” said Maj. Mark H. Clingan, 36, from Westminster, Md. “We are here to rid the country of the insurgency and allow the Iraqi’s their own self determination. That’s why the local nationals are now standing up to Al Qaeda and assisting Coalition and the (Iraqi Security Forces). This awakening is allowing us to focus our forces in areas where the enemy is seeking safe haven.”
This riverside area on a peninsula south of Fallujah has turned into base of operations for insurgent activity. Tight control over surrounding areas like Amiriyah to the east and Habbaniyah to the west have forced them into an ever-dwindling supply of terrain unoccupied by Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.
The 72-hour operation, dubbed Operation Riverwalk, denied the enemy this terrain and disrupted his ability to plan and equip to target both the Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces in and around the city of Fallujah.
A previous operation by soldiers from the U.S. Army 5th Squadron, 7th Calvary Regiment, along with Marines from L Company, 3/6, determined that insurgent forces had covered the roads in the area with IEDs. These devices were emplaced in a manner as a deterrent to the troops from advancing into their safe haven and finding their weapons stores. They also served as a warning system, allowing the insurgents to either flee the area or set up ambushes ahead of advancing patrols.
With the roads rendered as an unattractive option to the Marines, a different approach was deemed necessary. Under a cloak of darkness, Marines from K, L and Headquarters & Service companies inserted by helicopter directly into the areas with suspected weapons caches. The Marines began slowly fanning out from the landing zones, searching everything as they went. Slowly, steadily and very meticulously every stone was overturned, every house was searched, and every person was questioned.
“It was tedious. We went forward so slow,” said Cpl. Reinier C. Koole, 30, from Brooklyn, N.Y. “In return we found many caches and found the IEDs before they hit us.”
By searching slowly they found dozens of artillery and mortar shells, several varieties of weapons types, including anti-aircraft guns, and a vast assortment of bomb-making materials.
“It was exciting to find all that ordnance,” said Lance Cpl. Jesse N. Barbee, 21, from Rocky Mount, N.C. “To know that you are finding it in a good way and not a bad way.”
After a long day of patrols that maximized every minute of the sweltering day, the Marines had to find a new place to stay. They turned to the local populace for a safe place to rest their weary heads. The civilians welcomed them into their houses with open arms, which was a novel experience for some.
“It was definitely a new experience staying in someone else’s home,” added Barbee, a turret gunner for Jump Platoon. “They were already ready for us. They had pads and everything already laid out.”
By engaging the local populace, the Marines were able to identify caches and insurgents in the area. The average Marine cannot tell the difference between who is supposed to be in the neighborhood and who isn’t, who is an insurgent and who isn’t; the people who live there, however, can. By working with the ISF and the residents whose lives have been so disrupted by the insurgency, the Marines were keyed on to information that they could use to eliminate the insurgency.
Koole explained the purpose of the operation was to make the countryside on the peninsula as calm as Habbaniyah, where 3/6 is based.
“We’re trying to make (the area) as comfortable as our previous area of operations,” said Koole. “You can just about walk down (the roads) with your weapon slung (there). There’s always that ‘what if’, but that’s going to be there regardless. Even in my hometown it’s going to be like that. As nice and quiet as we have made our area, that’s what we are trying to do in (this area).”
By once again entering a known safe haven for insurgents, “Teufelhunden” Marines eliminated an immense amount of resources that could be used to attack Coalition Forces. They put a serious dent in the enemy’s capabilities, and forced the majority of insurgents to flee to other areas away from their former safe haven.