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Marines build berm around troubled city in western Iraq

20 Jan 2006 | Sgt. Stephen DeBoard

In an attempt to curb insurgent and criminal activity that has gripped this remote western Iraqi city, Marine engineers here have constructed an 8-foot dirt berm along the city’s perimeter. 

Now, insurgents can’t freely travel in and out of the city, which has been a breeding ground for smugglers and foreign fighters making their way into Iraq for years, according to Col. Stephen Davis, commander for Regimental Combat Team-2.

“We now have an exclusive walled compound down there (Rutbah), with three entry control checkpoints, that's been getting rave reviews from the population down there,” Davis told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing Feb. 11 at the Marines’ camp at Fallujah. “(It’s) one more step in making western Al Anbar a prohibitive environment for the insurgents and terrorists to operate in.”

Rutbah is a strategic location for insurgents and smugglers, since it is located astride two main supply routes – one from Jordan, and one from Syria, said Davis. Exit through Rutbah and travel east, and the supply routes lead to the heart of the Sunni Triangle – Ar Ramadi, Al Fallujah, and Baghdad. 

“This town had the unfortunate occurrence of being strategically placed there -- very convenient for smugglers, terrorists, insurgents to operate in and out of there,” said Davis.

That’s changed, thanks to the engineers’ efforts.

To gain access to or leave this city of 25,000, vehicles must pass through one of three traffic control points, which are manned by Iraqi soldiers. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.,-based 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion – who have spent the past six months patrolling Rutbah and other locales along the Jordanian and Syrian borders – supervise the Iraqi soldiers.

“The berm will force any vehicle that wants access into the city, or wants to leave the city, through the TCPs (Traffic Control Points). This will also force the insurgents to find a new way out of the city,” said Capt. Jerry DeLira, RCT-2 engineering officer.

Now, with the berm in place and American and Iraqi forces controlling all vehicle movement into and out of the city, insurgents are denied free movement in and out of the city, said DeLira.

DeLira describes the beefed-up security here as the “next phase of operations” for Marine and Iraqi forces – after months of hunting down insurgents throughout Al Anbar Province, they are seeking ways to force insurgents out of hiding; disrupt and destroy their logistical capabilities; and prohibit their free movement in and out of western Iraq. 

DeLira and other Marine engineers spent the better part of three weeks constructing the new security and control measures, which was no easy task, according to the engineers.

To complete the project, the Marines trucked in bulldozers and other engineering equipment from other units located throughout western Al Anbar province – a 30,000 square mile slab of desert west of the Euphrates River valley.

The earthmoving operation presented the Marine engineers with difficulties right from the start, according to Sgt. Richard L. Brown, 28, maintenance chief with Company C, 1st CEB. 

The Marines spent their first few hours cutting through the cement-like sheetrock on the surface of the ground – creating an especially challenging dig for the Marines, despite the use of D9 bulldozers.

“There’s sheetrock about a foot deep here,” Brown said, shin-deep in the ruts of the massive, up armored D9 bulldozer on loan from the Army.

Eventually, the Marines used “the Ripper,” – a device attached to the back of the D9 – to shred the sheetrock and pry up large rocks from the ground. It was a bumpy ride for the dozer operators.

“My brain feels like mush from jostling around so much,” said 31-year-old Eauclaire, Wis., native Lance Cpl. Jeff Smith, heavy equipment operator, Company C, 1st CEB.

Now fully constructed, the eight-foot-high wall of earth also has more subtle effects on the insurgents, who in recent weeks have planted improvised explosive devices inside the town - a cause of concern for Marines and Iraqi soldiers operating in the area, according to DeLira.

“Right now, they (insurgents) don’t really know what we’re doing,” said DeLira on the first day of the operation, “but they’re slowly going to realize this berm is going up around their city. This is going to have a huge psychological effect, frustrating the insurgents. We’re going to trap the ones inside and prevent new ones from reinforcing.”

The added security measures may seem like a lock-down of sorts for residents here, but that’s not the case. In fact, residents have been thanking the Marines and Iraqi soldiers for “ridding the town of the bad guys,” said Davis.

“The greatest source of our intelligence are the Iraqi people in these towns,” said Davis. “They have no love for the foreign fighters. The foreign fighters have absolutely nothing to offer the future of Iraq.  The people know that.  And the people are the ones who give them up to us.”