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Tank-infantry team denies insurgency near Fallujah

27 Mar 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Insurgents no longer have free reign in the rural farmlands north of Fallujah.

A platoon of Marines from Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion, joined with a reinforced squad from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment to scour the area north of Fallujah for insurgent activity in Operation Mesopotamia II.  The several-day operation took place in the Northern Regimental Security Area and disrupted insurgent activity, keeping terrorists from using the sparsely populated region as a staging area to launch attacks in Fallujah. 

The combined tank-infantry team is serving in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“We came out here to interdict anti-Iraqi forces and provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people,” said 2nd Lt. Jim A. Neville, a 32-year-old tank platoon commander from West Newfield, Maine.  “It’s not a permanently occupied area for us, so there’s always something new for us.” 

Marines conducted a series of cache sweeps, cordon-and-knocks and snap vehicle checkpoints, searching for hidden weapons and insurgents on wanted lists.  Marines searched abandoned chemical factories, squatters’ huts, farms and roadside stores.  At least two were detained for matching descriptions of wanted individuals and several weapons were confiscated. 

The operation marked just one smaller operation in a string of efforts north of Fallujah.  While most Marines work in the more densely populated areas of Falllujah, Saqlawiyah and Ameriyah, the task-organized infantry-armor teams made the most of their small-unit flexibility and imposing force of the M-1A1 Main Battle Tank.

“The people up here sometimes feel neglected,” Neville said.  “They feel they don’t get the security they need against anti-Iraqi forces who intimidate and steal gas.”

Tanks led the convoy of humvees and a seven-ton armored truck, loaded with Marines.  They selected a site to search and tanks pushed out to cordon the area, main guns swinging back and forth as gunners searched for threats.  Meanwhile, Marines dismounted and rushed to secure the buildings, moving all military-aged males out and checking rooms and cars for contraband items. 

The operations lasted sometimes for hours, as Marines questioned the men for information that could lead them to insurgents frequenting the area.  Answers led to a trend of information and a few names.

Other missions had engineers sweeping berms for weapons caches, hidden in the dirt.  And still, others had Marines stopping suspect cars that matched the description of cars suspected of being used by insurgents. 

Neville estimated Marine questioned and searched more than 350 military-aged men in less than three days, creating a disruption of insurgent activity.  Rolling the 70-ton tanks through the small towns sent the signal Marines were here for business, denying insurgents free use of the area.

“The intimidation factor is there when you use tanks,” added Staff Sgt. Zachary Dona, a 29-year-old platoon sergeant from Quarryville, Pa.  “Tanks integrated with infantry shows good presence and a lot of force.”

The presence of repeated missions to the area by tanks, infantry and crews of amphibious assault vehicles recently has paid off, Neville explained.  Engineers swept miles of berms, farmland and enormous gaping wells scraped from the desert floor, known areas for hidden weapons.  They turned up little, a sign Neville took as encouraging.

“It shows the efforts of the tanks and AAVs is paying off,” he said.  “Six months ago, you could throw a stick and find a cache.”

For the infantry, the chance to work alongside tanks was a boost in confidence.  They relied on tankers with their heavy armor and weapons to provide protection while they finished their searches and questioning.

“I was confident they knew their job,” said Cpl. Joshua J. Frazier, a 22-year-old fire team leader from Destin, Fla.  “They intimidated anybody who wanted to mess with us.”

Frazier worked with tanks in the past for training, but this was his first chance to operate alongside them in a combat operation.  He was impressed by the effect they had on his Marines to complete the mission and the local population.

“They helped us to remain focused,” he explained.  “We don’t worry so much about outside security.  The reaction of the people was more calm.  They knew we were there for business.”

Neville said despite not maintaining a permanent presence, Marines were having a lasting effect in the area.  Insurgents didn’t have free movement through the villages and the villagers themselves grew more trusting of the Marines’ intent.

“We know they have to adjust to our efforts,” he said.  “We’re creating a time for the people to get established and the insurgents have to adjust around that because we have a good idea of what they’re doing.”