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Marines leave no place for insurgents to hide in western Al Anbar

26 Feb 2006 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Marines in the Haditha Dam region continued to keep insurgents on their heels during another counterinsurgency operation here Feb. 26.

The latest operation, dubbed “Minotaur,” was aimed at clearing more than nine kilometers of riverbank and several small villages south of Haqlaniyah – a town along the Euphrates River in Al Anbar Province, northwest of Baghdad.

Although this is usually an inactive area, the Marines said they want to leave no stone unturned in their quest to hunt down insurgents.

“The quiet places are where the insurgents feel safe to hide,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Geary, platoon sergeant for Weapons Platoon, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Geary’s platoon spearheaded the operation. “If they (insurgents) are hiding here and using it as a planning site, we want to show them we will be around to disrupt their plans.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marines 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.

Operation Minotaur focused on Khaffajiyah and southern outlying areas including the island of Alus. The Marines went house-to-house looking for insurgents and used metal detectors to sweep the river bank for weapons caches.

“We just wanted to throw something different at them,” said Geary, a Helmville, Mont., native. “They see mounted troops, but it isn’t very often they see dismounted Marines go to their homes and search the area.”

Approximately six weeks ago, the Marines swept through the area and found numerous weapons caches buried along the river bank. This prompted the battalion to continue to sweep through this area, maintaining a vigilant presence to remind insurgents that there is no place to hide.

“If we continue to operate in these areas, they will never get a chance to execute [their] plans,” said 1st Lt. Jared W. Burgess, a platoon commander with the company’s Weapons Platoon.

During the next month or so, the battalion will be gradually replaced with another Marine infantry unit. The Marines want to leave this once insurgent-heavy area in good shape for the new unit, the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, said Burgess. The more secure the area is prior to the new battalion’s arrival, the easier the new Marines will be able to jump into the “driver’s seat” and continue current counter-insurgency operations.

“It’s good that we do one more sweep of this area before turning it over,” said Lance Cpl. Lawrence A. Parkhill, a 20-year-old team leader from Temecula, Calif.

While the Marines’ focus is on disrupting insurgent activity and further training Iraqi soldiers, thoughts of home are beginning to surface. For Parkhill, his thoughts turn to riding his motorcycle in southern California. Like many of the Marines, he is focused on the job at hand, but thinks more and more about the loved ones waiting for him and the hobbies he has missed since arriving here nearly six months ago.

“I miss the sunny weather in California and just cruising around with my girlfriend on my bike,” said Parkhill.

Even though the Marines are nearing the end of their time in Iraq, the battalion shows 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 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.