Walking Husaybah

The nighttime mounted patrol in Husaybah was followed by a pair of foot patrols. I linked up with the 1st Platoon of Lima Company of the 3rd Marines, 6th Battalion, call sign Jackal 1. 1st Lieutenant William Oren took me on a patrol through the southern neighborhoods outside of Battle Position Beirut.

We snaked through the streets, and my impression of Husaybah changed little from the night’s view. Interspersed with the trash, rubble, pieced-together walled homes and the ever present dogs was a mix of interesting architecture and a multitude of smiling Iraqi children and their parents.

Corporal Austin Hall directed the movement of the mixed squad of Marines and Iraqi troops, and warned me that if children are present, then all is well and the “muj” will not attack. We ran into children every where we went, and some crafty ones managed to meet us several times, always looking for candy or other handouts.

The platoon’s interpreter, or “terp” is a young Brit of Iraqi lineage named Icy, much wiser than his twenty years. He just turned twenty during this deployment and is on his third year as a Coalition interpreter, having served in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Iraq. Icy moved along the city street with the ease of a city mayor, and often stopped at haji shops to purchase sweets for us to distribute to the children.

Both Lieutenant Oren and Corporal Hall explained the successful patrol in Husaybah this afternoon would have been unheard of just three weeks ago prior to Operation Steel Curtain. “Over three weeks ago, we wouldn’t have gotten 200 feet into this city without taking fire” , said Cpl Hall.

The Iraqi troops that patrolled with the squad were quite impressive. Having served as an infantryman, I was curious to see how they handled themselves while patrolling through an urban environment, one of the most dangerous tasks for the infantry. An Iraqi soldier ran point, the entire way. They understood and responded to hand signals, maintained their intervals and guarded intersections during crossings. All the while talking to the residents of Husaybah. Other than their uniforms, they were virtually indistinguishable from their Marine counterparts – no small feat.

The evening proved even more interesting. A quick patrol was put together, but for a different purpose. The objective was a meeting with local sheikhs of a tribe in Husaybah. Another mixed patrol of Iraqi solders and Marines took us to the home of a local sheikh and several senior leaders of his tribe. Lieutenant Oren and Icy were to attend, and invited me to join.

We removed our boots and gear, and entered the home, to receive warm greetings from the tribal leaders. We sat on the blanketed floor, sipped sweet chai, and smoked cigarettes while Lieutenant Oren and the sheikhs discussed, via Icy, various issues of import to both the tribe and the Marines. The Marines and Iraqi soldiers stood by for almost an hour and a half until the meeting ended, with smiles, warm handshakes and a group photo.

The walk back to Battle Position Beirut through the darkness of Husaybah ended as uneventful as the morning patrol. What a difference one month makes in this corner of Iraq.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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