SAKRAN, Iraq -- Four helicopters carrying Iraqi soldiers and Marines broke a pre-dawn silence and inserted into this small town Feb. 14, signaling the start of a counterinsurgency operation here.
Marines from K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, along with Iraqi Army soldiers, were inserted into this western Al Anbar province town four days into the week-long Operation Pit Bull - a battalion-wide operation designed to squash insurgent operations east of the Euphrates River here.
Their mission: to secure the town of Sakran and ensure insurgents no longer use it as a logistical staging point and for launching attacks on the town’s much larger neighbor - Barwanah. In the past, weapons caches and bomb-making material have been found here, prompting Marines and Iraqi soldiers to clear the town.
“It’s (Sakran) kind of like a truck stop for insurgents going south,” said 2nd Lt. Alexander S. Martin, a La Jolla, Calif., native and platoon commander for K Company.
The Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marines and the Iraqi soldiers have spent almost 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. The battalion will be replaced by the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines next month.
Sakran, located approximately 10 kilometers from Barwanah, consists of two small communities where nearly 500 fishermen and farmers call home.
The Marines and Iraqi soldiers moved through the town systematically clearing houses and searching cars while looking for weapons caches, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and any signs of insurgent activity. Though they did not immediately find insurgents in the town, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers gained invaluable urban assault experience they never would be able to duplicate during training evolutions, said Lance Cpl. Christian P. Martinez, an automatic machine gunner with Company K.
“It definitely taught me how to adapt to a change in the plan,” said Martinez, a Chicago native. “And being this was the first [helicopter]-insert for me, it was a good experience to have for future operations.”
Before returning to the States, the company hopes to maximize their time here and gain more information about the region while establishing more long-term relations with the locals, said Martin. Furthermore, the battalion wants to ensure the area remains clear of insurgent activity for the incoming battalion.
During the operation, Iraqi Army soldiers were shoulder-to-shoulder with the Marines, and provided an invaluable aid to the operation’s success – translation of English to Arabic and vice versa, allowing the Marines to communicate with the local populace.
“They (Iraqi soldiers) know the people, the terrain and the language, so having them on patrol is a big advantage,” said Martin.
The operation came just a few months away from the battalion’s return to their southern-California base. Even though the Marines are nearing the end of their time in Iraq, they are showing no signs of slowing down their hunt for insurgents. They’ll continue actively seeking out anti-Iraqi forces and paving a path for their replacements’ success.
“The biggest thing is to keep your head in the game and on the task at hand,” said Martinez, 23. “Even though we are close to going home, this operation was no different than any other. We’ve come too far to lose more Marines because we weren’t concentrating on the task at hand.”