EXPEDITIONARY PATROL BASE - DULAB, Iraq --
Marines with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, kicked off Operation Bell Hurriyah in the Anbar Province.
The operation is intended to disrupt enemy activity in the battalion’s area of operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Traditionally Ramadan has seen a spike of insurgent activity, and we’re trying to prevent that,” said 1st Lt. Oliver W. Buccicone, the executive officer with the battalion’s Company A. “Last year, there were over 300 incidents during the 30-day period in this area alone.”
In the Muslim community, Ramadan is the most sacred time of worship. During this time Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset, and attempt to read the entire Quran, the Muslim holy book. Due to the fact it is based on the lunar calendar, Ramadan has no set starting or ending dates, but lasts one lunar cycle.
The battalion, also known as the ‘First Team,’ has been working closely with Iraqi Army and Iraqi police forces, setting up vehicle check points, over watch positions, and conducting cache sweeps and patrols.
“We have tried to keep the enemy on their toes by setting up lots of vehicles check points all across the AO,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew D. Markoff, a platoon commander with Company A, also known as the ‘Animals’. “We work with the ISF more in an over watch role now. We like to set up as backup and watch as they do patrols and checkpoints on their own. They’re doing well so far.”
Buccicone explained the battalion’s point of view on the operation so far.
“The VCPs and sweeps limit the enemy’s mobility and ease at which they can hide their weapons, thus eliminating their ability to hurt us,” said Buccicone, a Rochester, Minn., native who is serving on his second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The battalion believes its strategy so far is working, and is pleased with the results.
“It’s tough to gauge success in this environment because you never know what would have happened if you hadn’t interdicted, or set up a VCP, or done a sweep, but we have found a lot of ordinance, a lot of explosives, and I can’t help but believe it has positively affected what may have happened otherwise,” said Buccicone.
The Animals, in conjunction with their Iraqi counterparts, have found four caches so far, the battalion’s count is around a dozen. They recovered (115) 82mm mortar rounds, (192) 90mm artillery rounds, one 120mm, and 155mm artillery round, (10) 152mm mortar rounds, pieces of an anti-aircraft machine gun, and an anti-tank projectile.
In addition, the company has also safely recovered three improvised explosive devices, and detained four suspected insurgents.
“The main goal is to take away this area from the enemy, and I think we have done that,” said Markoff, a Raleigh, N.C., native. “Our relationship with the locals is amazing. When an insurgent comes to the city and asks someone where they can put an IED, the locals will actually bring them to us, or take us to them. It’s great.”
Buccicone agreed, “We get a lot of support from the local leaders, and once that happened, certain places just got shut down to the insurgency. Now we are working with ISF and area leaders to rebuild this area, which is the next step. We are working on repairing a bridge, creating a youth center, soccer fields, and even trying to get together a secondary school for females. It’s coming together in this part of the country.”
To the Marines of 1/7, and the local Iraqi civilians, Bell Hurriyah, translated as ‘Enjoy Freedom’, is not just an operation; it is slowly becoming a reality.