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Iraqi soldiers knock-out first independent military operation in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province

15 Mar 2006 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

While mainstream media debates whether Iraqi Security Forces are making progress toward eventually relieving Coalition forces in Iraq, Iraqi soldiers near this Euphrates River city recently completed their first independent counterinsurgency operation.

More than 100 soldiers from the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division conducted their first independently-executed mission to disrupt insurgent operations here March 14.

The soldiers, who were accompanied by a handful of Marines, patrolled through and cleared three kilometers of village just south of the town of Haqlaniyah along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province, northwest of Baghdad. The Marines, outnumbered by the Iraqi soldiers 10 to one, were on hand in an advisory role only.

“It’s good for the Iraqi people not to see us out there and to see the Iraqi Army doing all the work in keeping their community safe,” said Capt. Quintin D. Jones, a Memphis, Tenn., native and member of the Military Transition Team (MTT) here. MTTs are groups of Coalition servicemembers assigned to logistically assist and guide individual Iraqi military units’ transition to independent operations.

The Iraqi-led mission was part of the latest counterinsurgency operation, dubbed “Raging Bull,” conducted by Coalition forces in western Al Anbar Province.

The Iraqi soldiers spent four days rehearsing for the mission. From gear inspections to reviewing patrolling techniques to searching for weapons caches, the soldiers spent 10 hours each day preparing for any possible scenario they might encounter “outside the wire.”

“The soldiers were very happy yesterday because after all the training we went through, we finally were going to get a chance to prove ourselves,” said Iraqi Army Sgt. Ahmad Mdtr through an interpreter.

“This is our one chance to life to prove that we can do our duty alone,” said Mdtr.
While searching for weapons caches and insurgent activity, the soldiers employed many tactics and techniques they’ve learned from the Marines, such as dismounted patrolling, searching homes, and interacting with locals.

So far, 2nd Bn. has performed five counterinsurgency operations with the Marines, who have spent months bolstering the Iraqis’ military skills so they can continue to conduct operations on their own.

“The former MTT team set up these soldiers for success,” said Jones, who has worked with the Iraqi soldiers since January. “It’s good for them to get this first operation out of the way because with every operation, it gives them more confidence and brings them one step closer to taking over full time.”

Although the soldiers did not find any weapons caches or insurgents, nor was a single bullet fired, the operation is considered a significant milestone in the unit’s progression, according to Iraqi Army and Marine leadership here. More than 100 Iraqi soldiers successfully maneuvered through a village - a milestone in urban operations for the unit. More importantly, the mission showed Coalition forces that Iraqi soldiers here can successfully disrupt insurgent operations.

“(This shows) the Iraqi Army wants to play a more important part when it comes to the security of the Iraqi people in this region,” said Jones.

“This operation lets the commanders of the Iraqi Army know that ‘two-two-seven’ is ready to take over operations for the Marines in this area,” said Capt. Ahmed through a translator. “We did a good job of showing to the civilians that the Iraqi Army has come to serve them and save them from the terrorists.”

Iraqi Army leadership here plans to perform more of these missions in the near future. Within six months, the entire 2nd Bn. will have its own battle space, according to MTT officials.

“This is their country, this is their fight, and they need to fight in this operation (Iraqi Freedom),” said Staff Sgt. John M. Wear, the MTT intelligence chief and Port St. Joe., Fla., native.

While Iraqi soldiers were hunting down insurgents here, their Marine counterparts from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, were busy sweeping through Albu Hayatt, a village approximately five miles south of Khaffajiyah, to maintain a security presence in the area. The company inserted into the village via helicopter, searched the city for weapons caches and maintained a presence in the town for four days.

Marines say the continual presence discourages insurgent activity.

“Before we always came in for a day or so and the insurgents would just leave because they knew we would be gone soon,” said 2nd Lt. Geoff V. Meno, a Company L platoon commander. “By staying a couple days, it lets them know we plan on sticking around for a while.”

In total, Company L found nine weapons caches and detained three insurgents.

“The battalion has been down here a lot but never for an extended period of time,” said Meno, a Seattle native. “We want to continue to change it up so we can keep the insurgents on their toes.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marines have spent more than six months in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province conducting counter-insurgency operations and providing stability to the “Triad” area of Haqlaniyah, Barwanah and Haditha.

Soon, the battalion will be relieved by another Marine infantry battalion and will return to the United States.

The battalion’s redeployment to the U.S. is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in Al Anbar. More than 25,000 Marine and sailors of Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.

Email Cpl. Schnell at: adam.schnell@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil