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Marines help beef up the line for Iraqi Border Police

6 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose L. Garcia

Border security between Iraq and Syria is strengthening due in part to an initiative spearheaded by Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7.

Thirty-two new border posts are being built for the Iraqi Border Police in along the Iraqi-Syrian border.  The $12 million project will aid in stemming the region's smuggling trade that fuels terrorism in Iraq.

The posts are replacing ones that existed before the war last year.  Border guards fled their posts after the regime fell and the buildings were ransacked and destroyed. 

"There was a security problem with the borders," explained Navy Lt. James N. Vandenberg, a 43-year-old from Little Rock, Ark., who is a Navy Seabee and an urban planner for the Civil Engineer Corps.  "There were insurgents coming in through the borders, so the solution or help was to design and construct border forts."

The project began in the early spring and is expected to be complete by September.  The funds used to pay for the project come from money seized during the war last year.  It was actually U.S. currency found and seized by U.S. forces.

"We are using that money to benefit the Iraqis unlike Saddam Hussein," said Maj. Sidney G. Zeller, 39, from Farrar, Iowa and RCT-7's Iraqi Border Police director.  "We are trying to train, organize, and equip the border police."

The posts are contracted from local Iraqi construction crews and the final design incorporates a raised standard of living along with the practical function as serving as a security post. 

"We used different civilian contractors which in return gave jobs to the Iraqi people," Zeller said.  "The Al Anbar region is the poorest, so we wanted to put them to work.  We hired five different contractors and spread the employment throughout the region."

The forts span Iraq's western border, covering Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the south.

"By putting these forts up, the IBP will be much more effective and they will have full-time patrols," said Capt. Sean W. Pascoli, a 36-year-old from Wheeling, W.V. serving as commander for Weapons Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. "The importance is to be in control of who comes in and out of the border.  Border Police are at the tip of the spear."

According to Pascoli, the border police have been shot at more than Marines since patrolling the borders. 

"These guys have it just as bad as we do," Pascoli said.  "They live in wooden shacks in 137-degree weather." 

The hard structured buildings will include small open squad bays, kitchen, showers, lounges and a guard post on each corner.  The forts will house 40-50 border policemen.

"You can see the difference in the troops," said 1st Lt. Khalid Hamoud Hamed, 28, from Al Qaim and a platoon commander for 3rd Iraqi Border Police Battalion. "Their morale is higher and they will do a better job.  We are happy with the help we've received from the Marines.  Hopefully we will catch more smuggling and stop the border crossing."

Hamed said he would fill up all the empty space he has now by hiring more border police.

"Pretty much the wheel is just going to keep turning and we are grateful for all the help," said Hamed.

The total estimated cost of the program is roughly $12,865,360. 

The border police also received a total of 98 Ford and Mitsubishi trucks with radios in them for long-range communication.

"With us coming over here we are able to give them a better chance, a bigger doorway to have a better democratic government and make their lives a better place," Pascoli said.