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Iraqi soldiers capture four insurgents, progress toward relieving Coalition Forces by year’s end

26 Apr 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

It was pitch dark when four insurgents were captured in this town of 3,000 nestled along the Euphrates River in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

With the prisoners secured and on their way to a detention facility; Iraqi soldiers celebrated the achievement with stoic professionalism. 

They’re proud of the fact more insurgents are off the streets of this small town, and that they captured the bandits without the assistance of the U.S. Marines – which has been an uncommon occurrence in the few years since the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. 

“We are sending a message to the insurgents,” said “Ahmed,” one of the Iraqi soldiers involved in the capture of the four insurgents. “There is a new sheriff in town.” 

In recent months, the soldiers – all from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division – have demonstrated their ability to operate without the assistance of Coalition Forces, said Staff Sgt. Mike Wear, intelligence chief assigned to the Military Transition Team here. 

Moreover, coalition forces here say the Iraqis’ latest successful counterinsurgency operation is indicative of their overall progress in recent months.

They have independently raided insurgent hideouts, located weapons caches and set up traffic control points to catch insurgents transporting weapons in the past few months. 

“I believe that with the progress they are making with us and the (Marines) in the province, these soldiers will be ready to take over their battle space in six to eight months,” said Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, senior advisor for 2/2/7’s military transition team.   

Most importantly, the soldiers have given a sense of security to local residents, according to “Mohamed,” who enlisted in the Iraqi Army just recently. 

Moreover, residents feel the Iraqi soldiers from “2/2/7” are providing that security, instead of relying solely on Coalition Forces for such protection, said Mohamed.

The recent successful counterinsurgency operation by the Iraqi soldiers, dubbed Operation Bani Da Har, was the fourth fully independent operation Iraqi soldiers have conducted since February, according to the Military Transition Team responsible for mentoring the fledgling Iraqi Army unit. 

The soldiers’ recent accomplishments has led Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, 42, the senior advisor assigned on the Transition Team, to believe the Iraqi soldiers here will be capable of independent operations in western Al Anbar province on schedule. 

While all of the Iraqi soldiers here say they are glad they are keeping the peace here, some have a more personal interest of ensuring insurgents are kept off the streets, and unable to intimidate residents.

Some, like Ahmed, grew up amid violence stemmed from Saddam’s dictatorship, he said.

The young Iraqi soldier said he looks forward to any chance he gets to fight insurgents like those who terrorized his family when he was growing up. 

Before coalition forces ousted Saddam Hussein from power, theft and vandalism was commonplace, said Ahmed. Growing up, gun fights were a regular occurrence in his neighborhood, and would often keep him awake at night, he said.

“There are a lot of children that will not have to grow up in fear of insurgents and criminals who have no respect for others and human rights,” said Ahmed, through an interpreter. “When the Marines leave here we are going to be the ones responsible for protecting the innocent people.”

At the Iraqi soldiers’ camp here, Ahmed said he will never forget the day Hussein was captured by coalition forces. 

“I will take pride in assuring no child ever has to go through what I did when I was a kid,” said Ahmed.

But now, Iraqi Security Forces are beginning to take the lead in operations such as the one Ahmed and other soldiers from 2/2/7 conducted to find and detain insurgents hiding among the local populace, according to Lovejoy.

During the raid, the Iraqi soldiers demonstrated not only their ability to conduct a successful counterinsurgency mission, but also to plan and support such an operation.

Prior to the raid, Iraqi soldiers established a central command and control structure – an essential piece of the puzzle to effect military operations here, according to Wear, 28.

In less than 30 minutes, the soldiers established a combat operations center, complete with communications equipment, supplies and maps. Moreover, they completed the task in near-total darkness, using minimal light to prevent attracting enemy attention, said Wear.  

The feat impressed Wear, who added that such a task would be difficult even for a well-seasoned U.S. Marine unit due to the limited visibility at night.

The soldiers also planned for any emergency situations which may have arisen, said Wear. They formed a quick reaction force – a team of soldiers designated to respond to emergencies, such as medical evacuations and providing extra firepower in the even of an enemy attack.

Just six months ago, the Marines were in the driver’s seat of such operations, while Iraqi soldiers simply “shadowed” them to learn tactics and procedures for conducting security operations in Al Anbar province, said Wear, a native of Port St. Joe, Fla. 

Now, they are doing it themselves, said Wear.

“A few months ago, the Marines were running the operations and we were their just to watch and learn,” said “Hasim,” another 2/2/7 soldier. “Now, we are running the show and the Marines are just observing our progress.” 

The soldiers’ steady progress has laid the ground work for future multi-company-level Iraqi Army operations in the region, according to the Marines. 

“We have learned not just how to conduct operations, but how to conduct them with limited resources, such as sunlight,” boasted Hasim.

Since the Transition Team arrived in Iraq three months ago, the Iraqi soldiers have also demonstrated an improvement in their ability to collect their own intelligence, a key factor to counterinsurgency operations,  according to 1st. Lt. Jesse Cope, the Transition Team’s logistics officer.

“One key success the soldiers had this mission is they developed the intelligence and it led to the capture of a highly sought after insurgent,” said Cope.

Another factor contributing to the Iraqi soldiers’ steady progress is the experience they’ve gained while working hand-in-hand with the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment – the U.S. military unit assigned to provide security here until Iraqi Security Forces are ready to take over operations later this year.

The Marine battalion arrived here more than a month ago, and has worked side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts nearly daily to quell insurgent activity in the region. 

“All the rifle companies continue to give capabilities to the Iraqi soldiers when they train with them daily,” said Lovejoy, a 23-year Marine Corps veteran and Brookville, Fla., native.  “The rifle companies are ultimately building them for success.”

Contact Sgt. Seigle at: seigemf@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.