HADITHA, Iraq -- U.S. military control of security operations in the Haditha region in Iraq’s Al Anbar province was transferred to a Hawaii-based Marine battalion late last month.
Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, relieved another Hawaii-based unit, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, during a transfer-of-authority ceremony Sept. 24, at the Marines’ headquarters in Haditha.
2nd Battalion is part of Regimental Combat Team 7, the U.S. military unit responsible for providing security to more than 30,000 square miles in western Al Anbar province.
The short ceremony marked the end of a nearly seven-month deployment for 3rd Battalion, which worked with Iraqi soldiers and police in the Haditha “Triad” region, which boasts a population of about 80,000 and consists of three Euphrates River towns — Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah.
3rd Battalion recently returned to its base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, after months of combating insurgents, providing security and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces in the Haditha “Triad” region.
During the deployment, 3rd Battalion suffered 11 deaths. 2nd Battalion has suffered two deaths during combat operations since arriving in Iraq last month.
“The biggest obstacle that we’re going to face out here is the nature of the insurgency,” said Donnellan. “There’s a very brutal intimidation campaign throughout the Al Anbar province. Wherever there is some success, that’s where the enemy focuses their efforts to intimidate people into not joining the Iraqi Army or Iraqi Police.”
Still, the Marines of 2nd Battalion are “up to the challenge,” according to Sgt. Maj. Patrick A. Wilkinson, the battalion’s sergeant major.
“I think it’s going to be difficult, yes, but the Marines have trained hard for this (deployment),” said Wilkinson, a native of Bristol, R.I.
Before arriving in Iraq, all Marine infantry battalions undergo a monthlong counterinsurgency and cultural training packaged at a Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif. The monthlong training evolution puts the Marines in various combat scenarios in a mock Iraqi village.
The newly arrived Marines say they look forward to the next seven months and are thankful to their predecessors for laying the groundwork for a successful deployment during the next seven months, said Lt. Col. James Donnellan, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion.
“Without question, the biggest accomplishment (3rd Battalion) made was bringing the Iraqi Army battalion they were partnered with much further in their training and their ability to assume their own battle space,” said Donnellan.
During its seven-month deployment in the Haditha Triad region, 3rd Battalion trained the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division in patrolling techniques, communication methods, spotting improvised explosive devices and interacting with local leaders to improve Iraqis’ quality of life.
3rd Battalion also played a crucial role in the creation of police forces in the Euphrates River city of Baghdadi, located about 20 miles south of Haditha. In addition, police forces are emerging from scratch in other areas of the region, said Donnellan.
“They’ve laid a foundation from which we can really move forward and progress,” he said. “That (development of police forces) will last a lot longer than anything any individual Marine unit can do as far as security for the local people.”
During its tenure in the Haditha Triad region, 3rd Battalion made major steps in the recruitment of Iraqi police officers and the development of an Iraqi Army battalion in the area.
In less than six months, more than 200 Iraqi police were recruited and now provide law enforcement and security in the region.
Now, U.S. forces will continue to develop local police forces to combat the insurgency.
“The Marines of 2nd Battalion are confident they will keep the ball rolling in a positive direction,” said Maj. Keven Matthews, 2nd Battalion’s executive officer. “We’ve got a good idea of which way we need to go and we’re coming in behind an extremely successful tour by (3rd Battalion).”
Once the police are fully established in the area, 2nd Battalion will have the opportunity to focus on other aspects of fighting the insurgency, said Matthews, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Furthermore, 2nd Battalion’s Marines say they plan on fighting the insurgency by assisting the local populace with jumpstarting improvement and infrastructure projects, such as building schools, medical facilities and repairing basic utilities. Such civil affairs projects “integrate everybody’s efforts and attempt to stimulate the local government and economic growth in the area,” said Matthews.
The Island Warriors say they are confident they can bring further stability to the area, but know doing so will be a challenging task because of the large number of insurgents in the area.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Gerardo V. Panetta, 2nd Battalion’s operations chief, agrees with Donnellan that many challenges lie ahead for the Island Warriors.
“It’s going to be hectic here,” said Panetta, a native of Alameda County, Calif. “I think we’re ready, though. I think we’re more than ready. We’re here, ready to do our jobs, and hopefully bring everybody home safe.”
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See related story, “‘America's Battalion’ wraps up six-month Iraq deployment, returns to base in Hawaii,” at: http://22.214.171.124/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/2DFC49ED482193F2852571FC00416373?opendocument