Sgt. David Turner
2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div.
H/T: Task Force Marne: Dog Face Daily
“When 2nd BCT first assumed control of the Spartan (2nd BCT) operating environment in June 2007, the brigade was faced with a unique and challenging situation,” said Capt. Lauren Glaze, 2nd BCT provost marshal. “The only Iraqi Security Force present in the brigade OE was an undermanned and underequipped Iraqi Army battalion, stretched thinly across a quarter of the area,” Sectarian strife and rumors of ISF targeting and killing Sunnis led many to distrust the largely-Shia army and police, Glaze said.
“What developed was really a Petri dish for al-Qaeda to grow,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Adgie, commander of 1-30th Inf. Regt., a mechanized infantry battalion.
Coalition forces were attacked 95 times in the first two weeks, as they pushed into areas they had not been since 2003. After establishing Patrol Base Murray just 16 kilometers south of Baghdad, Soldiers of the 1-30th Inf. Regt. began moving south and east to secure the area along the banks of the Tigris River called Arab Jabour; because AQI had firmly established a presence there, it was not easy.
“What we discovered was a well built, elaborate, defensive belt,” said Ferrell, a native of Huntington W.Va. Improvised explosive devices, many of them buried deep, made travel in the area difficult. A combination of air assaults and ground strikes enabled the Soldiers to capture and hold territory from al-Buaytha down the banks of the Tigris to Sayafiyah.
“From June 16 until the first of February of this year, we were in full-scale kinetic operations,” Ferrell said. “Simultaneously, we were doing humanitarian assistance and working to build local governance.” As Coalition forces secured the area, citizens came to realize the benefits of working with them.
One of the key elements to success in holding the newly-gained areas was the formation of the Sons of Iraq, a volunteer security force of Iraqi citizens initially formed to guard important infrastructure such as roads and power stations. Coalition forces trained and worked with the SoI to secure their neighborhoods and help oust AQI, Glaze said.
“The training included classes on the SoI role in securing the community, basic first aid, basic self-defense tactics, the use of force and an overview of basic security principles,” Glaze said. “As a result, the SoI received the information they needed to successfully assist in removing hundreds of al-Qaeda, caches and IEDs from the battlefield.”
An important turning point came in November, Ferrell said. “We had a battle in Hawr Rajab in November, on Thanksgiving Day, when al-Qaeda attacked to try and take back the city. We stood arm-in-arm; you had Coalition, ISF, SoI. You had Sunnis and Shia banding together and you could not tell anyone apart,” he said.
“From that day forward, I’ve always highlighted that one battle, when they were standing there as brothers to take care of one another.”
Another key event was Operation Marne Thunderbolt, intended to deny al-Qaeda safe havens in the area. “Just as recently as January, we dropped over 40,000 pounds of ordnance as we fought down the southeast in our area of operations, finalizing one of the last major kinetic operations,” Ferrell said.
Sons of Iraq helped Coalition forces identify safe houses, weapons caches and IEDs, which in some cases were eliminated with air strikes. Between January 10 and 20, more than 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped in the Arab Jabour area by Coalition aircraft.
Adgie, a National Park, N.J. native, marked Jan. 22 as the date when AQI left Arab Jabour. In the past four months, SoI membership in the Spartan AO has grown to 5,400, greater than the number of Coalition forces and IA in the area combined. Their involvement, Adgie said, has kept AQI from returning.
The next step toward making security sustainable in the area was to increase the amount of ISF in the area, particularly the Iraqi Police.
“In September 2007, the Governor of Baghdad visited Arab Jabour and promised the local leadership and Coalition forces that Arab Jabour would have an IP station by mid-2008,” said Glaze, from Woodbridge, Va.
“After his visit we noticed an obvious change in the locals’ opinion of the ISF, specifically towards the IP. Over 300 SoI came forward and said they wanted to go through the IP recruiting process,” Glaze said.
The police station is currently under construction. “The ground has been broken and they are in the process of building the structure,” Ferrell said.
Even before IP forces could be established in the area, IA forces began to work alongside their Coalition counterparts, living and conducting operations alongside them. Two IA battalions now conduct patrols with Coalition forces and work with the SoI to maintain security.
“There are more hard days along the way,” Ferrell said. “We have to work to build the ISF, we have to continue to build confidence in the ISF, in the progress they are making.”