BAGHDADI, Iraq -- Marines from 3r Battalion, 3r Marines, known as “America’s Battalion,” and Iraqi soldiers recently completed a census operation dubbed “Operation Guardian Tiger IV” in the Euphrates River city of Baghdadi — a town of approximately 15,000.
The local government and Iraqi Security Forces can now put names and faces to residents throughout this city in the western Al Anbar province about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Upon completion of the mission, the Marines from the Hawaii-based Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment had an accurate census of the city’s population.
The purpose of a census is to record the demographics of an area as well as the town’s population. It also provides employment statistics and the number of vehicles belonging to residents in the area, said Cpl Austin Bridgewater, 22, a native of Richmond, Va., and an intelligence analyst assigned to the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Marines from 2nd Battalion are slated to replace the Marines from 3rd Battalion, who are wrapping up their seven-month deployment to Iraq.
The Marines and Iraqi Soldiers also spread word of opportunities to join the police and sent a message out to insurgents – “there is nowhere you can hide.”
The locals and tribal leaders told Marines and Iraqi Soldiers they would support future police recruiting efforts. This is a turning point for Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against the insurgency in this city, said Maj Eric Kelly, 36, the commanding of Weapons Company.
When the Marines from 3rd Battalion arrived in Iraq, insurgents threatened tribal leaders and any residents who cooperated with coalition forces, said Kelly.
However, recent screenings in Baghdadi resulted in more than 200 qualified candidates being sent to police academies in Jordan and Baghdad where they will undergo eight to 10 weeks of training.
Once the Baghdadi Police Force reaches a targeted number of police officers, future graduates of the police academy will be sent to select cities of the Western Al Anbar province.
Kelly cites the fact that only a few months ago locals were afraid to be seen talking with Coalition Forces due to the threats of murder and kidnapping by insurgents.
One such incident took place at a café here in May when insurgents executed approximately 15 Iraqi men for expressing their desire to join the police force.
But now that Baghdadi has a formidable police force, locals are no longer living in fear of insurgents and are not afraid to stand up against them, said Kelly, a native of Jacksonville, Fla.
“The atmosphere in Baghdadi has changed immensely over the last few months,” said Kelly.
“Marines and Iraqi Security Forces have been focused and remain focused on maintaining security here,” said Kelly. “The Iraqi Security Forces have developed a sense of trust with the locals. That trust is needed in order for Coalition Forces to withdraw.”
The Marines and soldiers also captured 10 suspected insurgents in one week during the operation. This is above the average number of captures for a week, said 1st Lt. Peter Ankney, 27, Executive Officer assigned to Weapons Company.
“The Marines usually capture two or three insurgents a week. The whole operation went smoothly and we established rapport with the locals. This is the last thing the insurgents want – their own people supporting security forces and standing up against them (insurgents),” said Ankney, a native of Colstrip, Mont.
In the past two months, direct engagements with insurgents and Iraqi Security Forces have been minimal and ineffective. Most often, insurgents are planting improvised explosive devices along roadways traveled by coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, but they are being spotted before they could do any damage, said Ankney.
Earlier this month, Sgt Andy Darnell, 25, a squad leader assigned to Weapons Company, caught an insurgent in the act of placing an IED while on a mission and detained him. The IED turned out to be the largest roadway bomb 3rd Battalion has come across in the six months they have been in Iraq.
“The bottom line here is that insurgents cannot operate unimpeded in Baghdadi,” said Ankney. “Now that we have projected forces going into all the villages of Baghdadi and the police force has quadrupled, (since 3d Battalion arrived in Iraq this March) insurgents are running out of places to hide.”
Since villages in Baghdadi are located on both sides of the Euphrates River, more bridges will be built so ISF and future Marine units can access the villages quicker on foot. Operation Guardian Tiger IV allowed the Marines and soldiers to establish a solid presence in the villages, said Ankney.
“When we went into the villages we could tell the people wanted us there and were glad to see us,” said “Ahmed,” an Iraqi soldier. “The times are changing (in Baghdadi) and these are the changes many soldiers wanted to see and make when they joined the Army. We want to make our country safe from criminals.”
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