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All in a night’s work; Marines, special forces capture 21 insurgents

18 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

Coalition Forces struck a blow to the insurgency recently, capturing 21 insurgents during a counter-insurgency operation in southwestern Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

The July 18 operation, a combined effort between U.S. Navy SEALs and Marines between the cities of Ramadi and Rutbah in Al Anbar Province, led to the most detainees netted by U.S. forces in this region since March, Marine leaders here say.

The operation took place near a gas station located between the two cities – a slab of desert sprinkled with a few small villages, connected by one of the province’s few major roads.

Marine leaders with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the U.S. military unit assigned to provide security to this region of Iraq, say the capture is a blow to the insurgency’s supply chain.

“Most of the guys we nabbed are enablers – they hijack goods to provide for the terrorists operating in Ramadi and Hit,” said 2nd Lt. Court Rape, a 24-year-old platoon commander with the battalion’s D Company, which spearheaded the recent counterinsurgency operation. “All of them are known terrorists. Two are very substantial targets linked to executions of truck drivers.”

Some U.S. military officials here believe that this portion of Iraq serves as a “staging ground” for insurgents – a supply artery which stems from western Al Anbar Province and runs east to the province’s larger cities, such as Ramadi, Fallujah, Haqlaniyah and even Baghdad.

According to the battalion’s executive officer, Maj. Ken Kassner, insurgents in the region hijack trucks and kidnap people for ransom. The money gained from these tactics funds the insurgency in more active parts of the country, like Ramadi.

“Hopefully people can drive the route without fear of being hijacked (now),” added Rape, a native of College Station, Texas. 

The capture of 21 of those insurgents means more security, and better economy, to the region.

“We definitely put a dent in the insurgency,” said Rape. “These guys are responsible for transporting people and materials to Hit and Ramadi. Now honest people can fill the recently open jobs at and around the gas station.”

Rutbah, a town of 30,000, is the largest city within the battalion’s area of responsibility. The Marines say the city is a notorious smuggler’s town due to its location along the main road connecting the western and eastern portion of the province. The intersection of the main routes from Jordan and Syria lead to Rutbah, play a crucial role in the stability of the region.

Just recently, Marine and Iraqi military leaders have managed to establish relations with Rutbah’s local leaders – a step in the right direction to not only maintaining security in the region, but to improving local living conditions, according to the Marines. 

Lt. Col. Matt Jones, 3rd LAR’s commander, met with local political, tribal and religious leaders just a few weeks ago to discuss on-going issues and concerns of the local populace.

It was the first meeting between the Marines and local leadership in three months.

“It is hard to find leadership when the insurgents are effectively threatening the populous,” said Jones, a 39-year-old from Louisville, Ky. “(But) the security climate is improving in the city and leadership has stood up, and that is what this is all about – the Iraqis stepping up and taking control.”

While the area is steadily improving, security of the region’s main roads is one of the battalion’s top priorities, said Jones. Safe highways are crucial to stability, he said.

“Commerce goes along (the roads) and stops at the gas stations,” said Jones. “If anything hinders that, then life gets harder for everyone, and people are more prone to turning to crime and the insurgency to provide for their families.”

The area’s three gas stations, all of which are located along the main road leading from western Al Anbar to eastern Al Anbar, play a key role in insurgent operations, said Jones. Insurgents use the gas stations as safe havens to plan future operations.

By stopping the insurgency in and around one of the gas stations, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces can cut off the insurgents’ cross-country communications and supply routes, said Rape. 

Now, locals can work at the various shops and markets along this vast stretch of desert – honest people, working honest jobs, as the Marines put it.

“The insurgents were really ingrained in that location,” said Rape. “They were operating and living in the area. Some worked at the gas station and shops in the surrounding area because the shop owners had to help out of fear of what the insurgents might do.”

The battalion is scheduled to return to the United States later this year. They will be replaced by another U.S.-based Marine LAR battalion.

Email Cpl. Paulsgrove at: paulsgrovega@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.