SAQLAWHIYA, Iraq --
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division launched phase one of the first-ever Iraqi command and controlled operation in the area surrounding Saqlawhiya, March 3.
Operation Spider Web is a four phase joint operation between the Iraqi Army battalion, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, and the local Provincial Security Forces. The focus is to rid the area of insurgents, but also to serve as a crucial training tool for the IA.
It is designed to teach the Iraqi leadership the necessary skills to not only organize but execute multi-faceted operations across other unit’s areas of operation (AO).
“This mission encompasses a lot of things,” said 1st Lt. Matthew E. Jenkins, executive officer, Military Transition Team 1-2-1. “The (IA) have to coordinate with different units, they can’t simply walk in to another unit’s AO without first setting up a coordination piece and cross talk; basically just let each other know what they’re doing.”
The Saqlawhiya area falls under 2nd Bn., 24th Marines’ battle space and thus is the first time an Iraqi controlled unit has initiated an operation across a coalition forces’ AO, Jenkins added.
This is a critical step for the IA since the fall of the Saddam regime. The great strides being made here are obvious as the Iraqi people take their nation’s freedom into their own hands; easing the burden placed on coalition forces.
However, such an accomplishment has not occurred overnight. The MTTs, as well as other coalition forces, have shed plenty of blood, sweat and tears for the last five years to achieve this goal. It is just another step closer to a total transfer of control to the Iraqis.
Marines from MTT 1-2-1 served their role as advisors to the Iraqi battalion; keeping a close eye on how the Iraqi staff operates, but allowing them to control every aspect of the operation.
Phase I of the operation consists of Iraqi soldiers patrolling through neighborhoods in the area, going door-to-door and gathering information from the locals on suspected insurgent activity.
“The mission is actually two-fold; we’re gathering information from the area, but we’re also letting the people see the joint mission taking place,” said the 26 year old native of Columbia, SC. “We want to show residents that coalition forces and the IA are working hand in hand with the PSF… show them everything is coming together, that they’re here for the long-haul.”
Phase II is the ‘shaping’ stage. The Iraqi battalion, in conjunction with 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, will host combined medical engagements, which offer free healthcare screenings to local residents in order to establish a distinct presence.
It gives the coalition and Iraqi forces a solid reason to be there, to strengthen ties by showing locals the IA is there to help, said Maj. Myles E. Hammond, team leader for MTT 1-2-1.
After all the information is collected and analyzed, Marines and IA will commence Phase III and sweep the area for weapons caches and search suspected houses.
Phase IV consists of source analysis, or pulling more information out of the suspected insurgents, Hammond explained.
“The people in these areas are all usually related or have strong ties to each other, we then have to start linking their networks, and that tends to lead to the big fish we’re looking for,” said the 35 year-old, Huntington Beach, Ca native.
Col. Ali Jassim, commanding officer, 1st Bn., 2nd Brigade, 1st IA Division, said there was a resounding need for the operation after several residents came to him with reports of insurgent activity in the area.
“The people ask me to make operation here and make things right,” said the robust 39 year old, from Alamarah, Iraq. “I want to make them safe so student goes to school and farmer goes to farm without fear.”
Jassim’s battalion has been together since 2004 when they fought alongside the Marines in Fallujah. His battalion transferred to their new AO in August of 2007 and after a month-long relief in place, assumed total control.
“Marines are professional, they have good training and good tactics,” he said. “We need learn everything from them, when coalition leave, is up to IA and (Iraqi Police) to keep our people safe.”
Jassim and his staff already have plans in the works for future Iraqi-led campaigns, allowing U.S. troops in the area to take a step back and fill reduced supporting roles.
“This is a solid team and they’re more than willing to take the fight to the enemy,” Hammond stated.