War on Terror Special report 17.8.05
Hard Knocks Suffered But Us Marines Continue To Make Progress In Iraq
Despite the recent casualties suffered by US Marines during operations in Iraq close to the Syrian border, US Vice President Dick Cheney, recently said that the insurgency in Iraq is in its last days and that the Coalition has Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden on the run, citing the capture of his number three Abu Faraj Al-Libbi.
However, Cheneys statements preceded both the London and Egyptian bombings and the statement by the Al-Qaeda Number Two, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, that more attacks were to come. It all demonstrated that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are still active and capable of committing atrocities around the globe.
With regard to the key battlefield of Iraq, Vice President Cheney noted that it is vital the Iraqis govern and defend themselves and that progress is being made on both fronts.
It is true despite several instance of bad news that, during the past 18 months, the US Marine Corps has made considerable progress, absorbing lessons learned during the many counter-terror operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa over the past few years and passing them on to marines preparing for deployment. On-going operations have enabled the Corps to develop a much more flexible curriculum that better prepares marines for what they will face in theatre.
Marine Corps Commandant, General Michael W. Hagee, recently issued a warning that his men should not underestimate the insurgents. During an interview with the Pentagon Channel he stated: Were going against a smart enemy. Thats really important to remember. We are also going against a very dedicated enemy, and sometimes we forget that. General Hagee continued: They believe just as strongly, I think incorrectly, but just as strongly, in what they are trying to achieve as we believe in what we are trying to achieve.
General Hagee also warned that the insurgents have been showing great tactical and technical ingenuity. He said: If we make a change in our tactics or our technology to counter what the enemy is doing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), based on current data, the enemy can respond to a change in our tactics within seven to 10 days and change their tactics.
Casualty figures show that IEDs continue to be the marines worst enemy in Iraq rather than rebel fighters.
Brigadier General Carter F. Ham, the US Joint Staffs Deputy Director for Regional Operations, explained recently that current operations in Iraq are serving two important purposes. He noted of recent operations such as Matador, Squeezeplay, Hudson and New Market, which have involved marines, that they have focused on disrupting enemy activities. And theyve also provided opportunity for the Iraqi security forces to gain valuable experience.
The general has first hand experience of Iraq, as before his posting to the Joint Staff, he commanded Task Force Olympia based in Mosul. Ham added there has been no decision on whether US troop levels, currently at about 139,000, will increase or decrease. There will be a temporary increase because units will overlap as they are rotated in and out of the country. Throughout the first half of this year the US Marines have been honing their skills in a series of operations designed to capture Iraqi insurgents, disrupt their arms supplies as well as attempting to win local hearts and minds.
For example, Operation Matador took place in western Iraq during the first half of May (see WARSHIPS IFR July 05). This was followed by Operation New Market launched on May 24 by US Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, working in tandem with the Iraqi security forces. Like Matador it was intended to keep the terrorists on the run and on the defensive. Coalition forces killed 14 terrorists and detained more than 30 suspects. Patrols also unveiled enemy stores, such as four machine guns in a neighbourhood school and numerous weapons caches, including 315 mortar and artillery rounds and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. In Fallujah female Marines have taken on a critical role in the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regimental Combat Team 8s mission in an effort to show respect for the Iraqi culture. They have been stationed at roadblocks in order to search Iraqi women. A senior USMC source has noted: Over the past few months, following our 1st Marine Divisions magnificent actions in Fallujah, Operation Al Fajr, we have seen elements of the insurgency scatter along the green belt of the Euphrates. Because of the strategic crossroads aspects, Haditha has been a problem. Following Matador, a lot of good intelligence had been developed on the insurgent underground railroad moving people and arms to key cities. Intelligence, particularly in the counter-insurgency ops, as you know, drives the operations. Operations develop more intelligence and in turn we get the perfect circle that lets us continue aggressive action.
During early June, the 2nd Marine Divisions 6th Marine Regiment, conducted a farmland sweep with Iraqi security forces, dubbed Operation Hard Knock, to the west of Fallujah. The troops hunted for illegal weapons, insurgents, and IEDs as part of their on-going mission to rid the area of terrorists. The search uncovered what is possibly the largest series of insurgent weapons caches found this year in the Al Anbar province.
The biggest weapons site was located near Karmah, a small city north of Fallujah. The 558ft by 902ft storage area was discovered in an abandoned rock quarry, which involved a series of bunkers insurgents used as an underground lair. The discoveries are part of ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the area, said Lieutenant Colonel Andrew D. Bianca, 2nd Marine Division operations officer. We are finding these series of caches through aggressive Marine and Iraqi Security Force patrolling and tips from local citizens, he added. The information often comes through our Tip Line, which received 30 to 40 calls in March and April. But last month, we tallied up to 120 actionable tips that revealed the locations of IEDs and arms caches. In one portion of the lair, the Coalition troops found numerous types of machine guns and ordnance including mortars, rockets and artillery rounds. They also discovered terrorist tools of the trade, such as black uniforms, ski masks, Night Vision Goggles and fully charged cell phones.
Also during the first week of June Iraqi Security Forces and men from the 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), completed Operations Woodstock/Uhaser Sunday, during which they conducted continuous patrols, vehicle checkpoints, raids, and searches throughout Babil province. The operation also involved approximately 2,000 soldiers from five Iraqi Army battalions and police officers from several jurisdictions.
Despite these successes the IED death toll continued to mount during June. Tragedy struck on June 9 and 10 when seven marines were killed in two IED attacks. In the first, five marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 were killed when their vehicle hit an IED during combat operations near Haqlaniyah in western Iraq. In the second incident two marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8 were killed by an IED that, again, detonated close to their vehicle during operations near Saqlawiyah in Anbar province. The following day, on June 11, another four soldiers assigned to elements of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force were killed in separate roadside bomb incidents. Two soldiers assigned to the 2nd Marine Division perished during operations about 18 miles southwest of Taqaddum when their vehicle struck an IED.
Two other soldiers assigned to the 155th BCT were killed when an IED detonated near their vehicle about 12 miles southeast of Amiriyah. On the same day marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 in western Anbar province killed about 40 insurgents.
On June 9 as night fell on Haditha, Marines with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and Iraqi Security Forces headed into the northern part of the city to begin Operation New Market. Company K travelled from their area of operation, Al Qaim, about a hundred miles north to support 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiments efforts to root out insurgent activity. Operation New Market utilised offensive manoeuvring to clear the city, which included Company K clearing northern Haditha and setting up a blocking position to allow marines to clear the southern part of the city.
An Iraqi Reconnaissance Company and marines worked together, conducting cordon and knock operations and house to house searches. For USMC Lance Corporal Luis A. Cruz, a team leader, this would be only the second time he had worked with the ISF. Its a good thing to have them with us, because it lets the Iraqi people know that Americans are not trying to take over their country, he said. I think it was a good experience for us, because they know things about Iraq that we dont, and they can communicate easier with the locals. Gunnery Sgt. Aeshor Beghidan, an Iraqi Security Forces platoon sergeant added: Ive worked with the American marines for about six months. I watch them and learn from them. These are good operations and I think they are helping my country become a better place for my people.
We can only hope that he is right. In the short term the going looks tough.
Italian Naval Commitment
During a press conference in Bahrain aboard the Italian frigate ITS Libeccio Lieutenant Commander Pierpaolo Ribuffo, the warships Commanding Officer, said communicating the Coalitions objectives will be a prime objective.
The most challenging thing we have to face is to allow the mariners to perceive clearly that we are here to help those who want peaceful use of the sea, said Ribuffo.
Libeccio relieved the frigate ITS Grecale June 8, a move that marked Italys continued commitment to support the Coalition effort to ensure security and stability in the Gulf. Libeccio is now conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) as part of Task Force 152. Coalition maritime forces operate throughout the 2.2 million square miles of international waters in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
One of the main reasons, Ribuffo said, that Libeccio and ships from other Coalition countries conduct patrols in the region is to prevent terrorists from using the maritime environment. Ribuffo said that the Coalitions efforts are having an impact:
The Coalition, in some cases, has actually found out that the crew or simply the owner of a particular ship that has been boarded was tied to activities that we are trying to prevent.
HMAS Newcastle On Station
The Royal Australian Navy guided-missile frigate, HMAS Newcastle is now in station in the Gulf working as part of the Coalition effort, having taken over duties from sister ship HMAS Darwin. Newcastles aim is to contribute to maritime operations in support of the stabilisation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq. It is the third time Newcastle has deployed to the Gulf and she is the eleventh RAN ship to serve in support of operations in the Middle East Area of Operations since 2001.
Canada Back On The Scene
The Canadian Navy has returned to Arabian waters with the deployment of the Halifax Class frigate HMCS Winnipeg. Deploying in April from her home base of Esquimalt, she has been deployed on counter-terror operations under Canadas OP ALTAIR. Winnipeg took a circuitous route out to her patrol area, stopping off at Singapore for the IMDEX naval show, before entering the Arabian Sea in June.
UK Frigate Rescues Iraqis
While patrolling in the northern Gulf, the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll was called to go to the assistance of an Iraqi dhow, which was reporting that many of her crew had become critically ill.
Responding within minutes, Argyll deployed the ships doctor, Surgeon Lieutenant Daniel Henning, with a Royal Marine protection team to investigate. On arriving at the dhow, it quickly became apparent that four members of the crew were suffering from severe food poisoning with one needing intensive treatment. Resuming operations, Argyll and patrol boats from the Iraqi Navy then monitored the vessel and the four affected members of the crew improved and were working again within 24 hours.
The early August incident came as Argyll was coming to the end of a six month deployment to the Gulf as the UKs Operation TELIC Guardship.
She is expected to hand over her duties to the Type 22 frigate HMS Campbeltown. Argyll will return to her base port of Plymouth toward the end of August. During her deployment to the Gulf Argyll was visited by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West. He came aboard while the ship was patrolling off Iraqi oil platforms to protect them from terrorist attack. Witnessing for himself first hand how Argyll was being tasked to undertake this essential role, Admiral West was able to appreciate the local geography in which Argyll operates.
First Sea Lord Visits Iraq
Later, during a whistle-stop tour of RN personnel in Iraq and elsewhere in the Gulf, Admiral West arrived at the Iraqi Naval Base of Umm Qasr onboard an Iraqi Patrol Boat. A regular visitor to the Naval Base, Admiral West was impressed with the amount of progress that has been made in the last six months. He was invited by the Iraqi Navy to open their new Gymnasium and Water Survival Training Centre, which is among may new facilities funded by the Coalition.