Jan 27, 2008

With 1-30 Infantry Reg. south of Baghdad

Patrol Base Al-Mizan:

We were awakened our first night at this forward base by the sound of the machine guns pounding from the Apaches flying overhead. This is Patrol Base Al-Mizan, opened two days ago by the 1-30 Infantry Regiment, LTC Ken Adgie commanding.

Out of Fort Stewart, Ga., Bravo Company and HAC Company started building this forward base, the latest in a series, just two days ago. Taking over an abandoned house, the Soldiers have been filling Hesco barriers, putting electricity and lights into their new FOB, pushing out into the countryside, and working on expanding their very aggressive and very competent Concerned Local Citizens group in the opening days of Operation Coliseum.

But up on the roof, talking to the Soldiers manning the sandbagged watch-points, they made the point that 1-30 is the new government in the area. “We’re out patrolling all the time,” said SPC William Terry, “we’ve been fighting since we arrived here in June.” “What you’re hearing tonight is no big deal,” added Pv2 Mike Kelly,” it’s just terrain denial.”

But terrain denial is a big deal to the locals, who have suffered terribly from the lack of governance and attention by the Government of Iraq. We are approximately 15 miles south and east of Baghdad in an area known as Arab Jabour. The area is agricultural, fairly poor, and 99% Sunni. The al-Jabouri’s are the main tribe, and not only has there has been no functioning government since Saddam’s fall in April 2003, but until 1-30 IN, the last of the “surge brigades” arrived, there was no American presence either.

The result was four years of terror and killing.

For a while Jaysh-al-Islam (JAI), a Sunni insurgent group, tried to control the area. But when AQI emerged from the local unemployed and began denying basic services like clean water and food, and started their too-common practices of kidnapping, torture and killing, they drove JAI out of the area.

Not long ago AQI waited outside a mosque in order to deliver a lesson: when the service was completed they took the 10 brothers and sisters of a Concerned Local Citizen and executed them in front of their brother. In another recent incident, four locals were beheaded. With such total intimidation, the net effect is that the AQI members need to be killed for the local citizens to feel that they are truly secure – and for the locals to feel secure, then a relatively permanent base needs to be built in a conspicuous spot so the locals will know that the Americans and their Concerned Local Citizens are available to defend them as necessary.

Adgie’s soldiers have been fighting since their May-June arrival “in-country.” They pushed south and built their main base, FOB Murray in June, took over & expanded Patrol Base Red, built PB Hawkes, built OP 3, and now Al-Mazin. In the next week they’ll build another base another mile or so south.

The mission is similar to that which was so successful in Anbar; it’s “Clear-Hold-Build” – and then push further out south the countryside and do it again.

“This has been an extremely kinetic fight”, said Adgie. “We’ve had 14 Soldiers KIA’s, fired some 800 mortar rounds, and called in 2,000 rounds 155mm howitzer fire from the gun battery in Mahmudiyah.” Adgie was not exaggerating; up on the roof SPC Terry, Pvt2 Kelly and I watched and listened as Apaches buzzed thru the night air; off in the distance we listened to their machine guns firing, along with the subsequent explosions from the IED’s they exploded.

With security provided by 1-30 Infantry, plus 1,140 Concerned Local Citizens providing a very decent local security, Adgie is able to provide the necessary services that most definitely win the “hearts & mind” campaign that helps solidify the local’s turn away from AQI.

“We’ve done about 10 MedCaps where we examine and treat the locals,” explained LTC Sam Lee, the battalion doctor.” As the security improves, the locals gain enough confidence to want to bring us their children.” “In the town of Al-Buaytha, we’ve-opened the Ar-Nasr Clinic, Adgie added, “and it’s staffed by local Iraqi doctors who returned because the security is better now.”

The improvement in security also helps the economic rebuilding efforts; the local gas station is open for the first time in 2 years, four of five fresh-water pumping stations are operating, and the canal system is bringing water to the farmers. In his six month tenure here Adgie and his Soldiers have rebuilt and improved the road system, and the schools have also reopened.

In his six month tenure in this AO, his Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) has approved 56 micro-grants, and has approx 100 additional applications currently under review. Between the micro-grants, and hiring contractors for the roads and schools, Adgie is the largest employer in the area.

An unexpected yet successful corollary to these programs – all of which help win the hearts and minds of the locals, is that many of the locals enthusiastically join up as members of the Concerned Locals Citizens; one does not have to be a Shia or a Sunni to want to defend your home and family, and LTC Adgie says that some of his CLC’s are now amongst of his most ferocious fighters.

“The CLC’s have knowledge of the terrain, the towns, and the people,” Adgie explained.” They go out on patrol with my men, and frankly make it safer for us.” Adgie lets his CLC’s – all of whom are from these little villages - name the bases; Al-Mazin translates to “Scales of Justice.”

Jan 20, 2008

Back to Iraq !!

Finally - I’m off to Iraq !

Writing about the efforts of our Marines and Soldiers at war is an honor, but doing it from the safety of my desk is a bit embarrassing. But tomorrow evening I’m off again to Iraq for approx a month, from where I can report back to you from out in the field.

It’ll take me a few days to get out in the field, but from approx Monday, I’ll have three reports for you weekly.

I’ll be in the “Bagdad belts” for a week; going out in the field with the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 30th ID continue to drive AQI from their area. Working from here, I’ll be reporting to you on their efforts, as well as the follow-on work of the Provisional Reconstruction Teams help the locals rebuild the economy. Especially in Iraq the cry is “Its job’s, stupid!”

Then I’ll be up in Bagdad, up in the Green Zone for a few days. We’ve got interviews planned with MajGen Rick Lynch, CG of MNFI-Central, Government of Iraq Spokesman Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, and then down to talk with MajGen Douglas Stone and BG Michael Nevin about their successful detainee program.

From early Feb onward I’ll be returning to Anbar Province, from where I’ll be spending more time in Ramadi (with their Mayor and new Ramadi City Council ), and then back to Fallujah as the Marines of 1st MEF roll in and maintain the control and stability won by their 2nd MEF predecessors.

It’ll be an awesome trip - come join The Military Observer in the field !!

Jan 10, 2008

Marines in Baghdadi - by Cpl Adam Johnston

Iraqi Police Take Over the Fight in Baghdadi

The war in Iraq is winding down. As the Marines in Anbar Province help organize 5-K races in Ramadi, a Youth Soccer League in Fallujah, and other events that are as non Marine-like as they could have ever imagined, in the western part of Iraq they’re turning over battle-space to the Iraqi Security forces.

But let’s be serious: This is Iraq, and there will never be a perfect security situation. But as the Iraqi people want to regain control of their own country, and their own future, their need for the Marine Corps will dwindle as their own forces improve in professionalism and enthusiasm.

Today’s article is sent to us by Cpl Adam Johnston. Writing from RCT-2’s PAO shop in al-Asad, he sent us this dispatch yesterday.

Cpl. Adam Johnston
Combat Correspondent – Regimental Combat Team 2

COP BAGHDADI, Iraq – How many Marines does it take to secure Baghdadi? Last year, it took an entire company. Then, as the situation improved, that number dropped to a platoon. And now, with the onset of 2008, the grand total is zero.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, have completely pulled out of Command Outpost Baghdadi. To the pleasure and pride of the local citizens, their replacements are already hard at work.

In a monumental step toward Iraqi sovereignty, the Baghdadi Police force has taken sole responsibility of security within the city limits. They are the first to do so in all of Al Anbar Province.

“In the past, battalions were measured on how many battle positions they established during a deployment,” said Lt. Col. J.J. Dill, commanding officer, 1st Bn., 7th Marines. “It showed they were moving out into the community, partnering with (Iraqi Security Forces) to make things happen. But in this stage of the counterinsurgency battle, it’s not how many we put up – it’s how many we take down.”

The transfer of authority comes as a direct result of the Baghdadi IP validation, which is determined by U.S. and coalition forces.

“It’s a checklist of where they’re at,” said Capt. Craig T. Douglas, the company commander of Co. A, 1st Bn., 7th Marines. “Can they run their own investigations, conduct security patrols, etc.? Are they self-sufficient?”

In control of their own battle-space, the Baghdadi IPs face their toughest challenge yet. Can they do it alone?

“The IPs of Baghdadi are ready to take over,” Douglas said. “They want the bad guys out of here just as much as we do. With logistical support from the government of Iraq, they should be ok.”

If, however, Baghdadi should need emergency assistance, the Marines of 1st Bn, 7th Marines, won’t be far behind.

“The COP is in the middle of our (area of operation), so we’ll still be in an over-watch capacity,” said Douglas. “But they know that one day, we’ll be gone. They’ll need to be able to do things for themselves.”

The building itself, upon completion of the new police station, will become host to city council meetings and other government functions.

“Many people back home think the Anbar awakening happened overnight,” Dill said. “But where we’re at today is the culmination of four years worth of hard work and dedication by Marines and Iraqis alike. I want this city to stop looking like it’s under siege. This is a huge step toward the return to normalcy.”