Since Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted Operations River Gate, Iron Fist and Steel Curtain on the western stretch of the Euphrates River Valley, the insurgency has been largely quiet in the region. The fruits of the year-long Anbar Campaign have allowed the joint Coalition and Iraqi forces to shift from overt offensive search & destroy and clear & hold operations to a more subtle counterinsurgency posture, which includes establishing and nurturing local governments and police forces, rebuilding civilian infrastructure and conducting security operations. This is what Colonel Stephen W. Davis, the Commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team – 2, refers to as “continuous maintenance work, which pays off over time.”
Several days ago in the city of Ramadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja’afari, Anbar Governor Ma’amoun Sami Rashid, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces – Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey met to discuss the future on Anbar province. “Anbar’s participation in the Iraqi Security Forces, combating terrorism throughout the province, the role of the Coalition Forces and Al Anbar’s participation in the new Iraqi government” were the topics of discussion as was the issue of reconstruction aid to the region.
Other than Ramadi, the western leg of Anbar province has seen very few large scale military operations. The latest operation, Koa Canyon, is neither of the search & destroy or clear & hold variety, as the region has been secured, but counterinsurgency operation directed at the region between Jubbah and Hit. Multinational Forces – Iraq reports the units involved are two battalions, the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division, and the 22nd MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “The majority of the forces are conducting cordon and knock operations and searching areas of interest for weapons and insurgent activity… In addition to the Iraqi Army, Marines are also working with Iraqi Police in the Baghdadi region.” Unstated in the press release is the Iraqi Security forces completely own the battlespace in the town of Kahn Al Baghdadi.
Koa Canyon follows a large scale three day sweep that uncovered by Marines and Iraqi Army units in the city of Hit, which netted numerous weapons caches. 1st Lt. Antonio Agnone, the combat engineer platoon leader for Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment stated “This was our biggest find to date.” Insurgents went so far as to hide ammunition in a cemetery.
Downriver from Hit in the town of Barwana, where insurgents senselessly murdered children in a mortar attack the day after the historic election last month, Iraqi soldiers and the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, discovered eleven weapons caches consisting of “139 artillery rounds, 56 mortar rounds, 47 122mm rockets, 94 14.5mm armor piercing incendiary rounds and 19 100-pound bags of propellant.”
Staff Sergeant Charles Strong, the platoon sergeant for Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, which is stationed in Husaybah directly on the Syrian border, provides a succinct description of the Marines’ posture along the Euphrates River Valley. I was embedded with Lima Company and patroled with SSgt. Strong’s platoon, call sign Jackel-4, and the progress in Husaybah has proceeded rapidly since my departure. Roadside bombs are still a threat, but the situation for the people of the city improves:
We remain active and the operational tempo has picked up so has the threats from IEDs and VBIEDs, so my watchful eye stays on my flock like a shepherd as we traverse Huysayba… The Marines here continue the good fight and are making headway everyday. Seems things change rapidly like power coming on and streets being repaired, and yes I even believe they started a sanitation service, but don’t think most have caught on as the local corner looks as good as any to dump and scatter their trash. Many interesting venues have happened since your leave.
A little under two months ago, security was the main focus in Husaybah. The fact that street repairs, sanitation and other services are being restored shows a marked improvement in the security situation and in the cooperation of the local tribes and population. SSgt. Strong also provides a powerful reminder of the nature of the struggle in Iraq and its importance in the War on Terror. This is a view that is widely held by the Marines fighting in Anbar:
Our own country’s men and women are fighting for the freedom of a helpless, defenseless Iraqi People, intertwined in a struggle against Islamic Extremism and a right to their own Nation regardless of what flag or religion it prospers under.
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