View Full Version : 11th MEU departs early to reinforce troops in Iraq

05-29-04, 07:00 AM
11th MEU departs early to reinforce troops in Iraq
Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story Identification #: 2004528162925
Story by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards

ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD(May 27, 2004) -- ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) departed Thursday from 32nd Street Naval Station San Diego nearly a month earlier than the scheduled deployment in response to a request from U.S. Central Command for more forces in Iraq.

Before this request, the MEU was scheduled to conduct a typical MEU deployment, serving as a crisis response unit in the U.S. Central and Pacific Commands areas of operation -- a mission for which MEUs are renowned. Now that 11th MEU Marines know they are headed for Iraq in support of stability and security operations, they have no doubt they are ready for the task.

"The Marines and sailors of the MEU are really positive. More than 50 percent of them are returning varsity so they've been there before," said Col. A.M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU.

The veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom say they feel more secure going back this second time.

"We're definitely more confident now than before," said Pfc. Cody D. Finch, a mortarman with Weapons Platoon, Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. "Everyone's already used to it and knows what they're expected to do."

Although the MEU departed early, that didn't prevent them from finishing their normal training period. In the shortened cycle -- 4 1/2 months vice 6 months -- the MEU obtained their SOC qualification, a feat that shows their readiness and confidence.

Haslam feels this adaptation will help them in the myriad of possible missions they could face.

"What's great about the MEU (SOC) cycle is that we are trained to rapidly plan and execute missions, and to work in a fluid environment where things are constantly changing. It's important to be able to adapt and quickly change your plan," Haslam said. "While the details of our mission are currently being refined, we'll be ready to go. We'll make it happen."

The MEU began their scheduled training in January, practicing for a normal deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East regions with the Belleau Wood Expeditionary Strike Group. Now with a known mission and location, the MEU tailored their equipment to meet new needs.

The MEU has brought enough High Mobility Multi-wheeled Vehicles and Motor Transportation Vehicle Replacement 7-ton trucks to support the BLT on the ground. All these vehicles have been outfitted with extra armor as well.

But even with all the preparations and confidence of the individual Marines, that doesn't stop the loved ones left behind from worrying.

"I don't want him to go, I'm going to pray for him every moment," said Vivian Lee, 23-year-old fiancee of a departing BLT Marine. "But I know what he has to go do."

The Marines of the 11th MEU are confident in their experience and training to get the job done.

"The deployment will be easier this time because you know from experience what you and everyone around you can do," Finch said with a calm assuredness.


Lance Cpl. Jeremy Rapp, rifleman, 1st Platoon, Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 11th MEU (SOC), spends a few last minutes with his wife and daughter, Christina and Caden, before departing aboard the USS Denver Thursday morning. The MEU departed nearly a month earlier than the scheduled deployment in response to a request from U.S. Central Command for more forces in Iraq. Photo by: Cpl. Daniel J. Fosco



05-29-04, 07:01 AM
Longtime Exile Selected Interim Iraq PM


BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United States has warmly endorsed a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to select a longtime exile with strong ties to the CIA to be the new prime minister of Iraq's interim government despite U.N. concerns over his past links.

Friday's selection of Iyad Allawi _ a Shiite Muslim council member who headed an exile group made up of former Saddam Hussein military officers _ was an assertion of influence by the U.S.-picked body as the June 30 date for the return of Iraqi sovereignty draws near.

"He is certainly a fine and capable leader who appears to have broad support among the Iraqi people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Allawi, who is also a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

The White House had said earlier in the day that Allawi was just one of many candidates and the council was one of many groups offering names. Secretary of State Colin Powell, early in the day, had said the United States had "no position on any candidate at this moment."

However, a senior Bush administration official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Allawi will become prime minister, and the White House praised Allawi as "a fine and capable leader."

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been leading discussions on forming the government, also all but endorsed Allawi. Brahimi "is perfectly comfortable with how the process is proceeding so far," a statement by his office said.

The United Nations acknowledged the timing of the council's announcement was a surprise, but said Brahimi would work with Allawi on the makeup of the government, due to be announced in the coming days.

Allawi had been "high on (Brahimi's) list" of possible premiers," spokesman Fred Eckhard said at U.N. headquarters in New York. The announcement "is not how we expected it to happen ... but the Iraqis seem to agree on this candidate."

Still to be chosen for the new government are a president, two vice presidents and 26 Cabinet members. The president, a largely symbolic post, is to be a Sunni, and the vice presidents are expected to be a Kurd and a Shiite.

Allawi has maintained a low profile here and is believed to have only a limited power base in Iraq.

But council members wanted a prime minister with a strong background in security to deal with the persistent violence that will be the most compelling challenge for the new government.

Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party included many army officers who defected during Saddam's rule, and a relative serves as Iraq's minister of defense. He is also a member of the majority Shiite community, whose leaders had insisted that one of their own take the most powerful government post.

The choice was a rejection of Brahimi's initial preference for a weak government of nonpolitical figures to take power June 30 and prepare for national elections by Jan. 31.

Absent any opposition, however, it appeared the United Nations had little choice but to accept the Governing Council decision, given international demands for the Iraqis to have a greater say in their own affairs.

A U.N. official said Brahimi had advance word that the council would pick Allawi, and that Brahimi, while respecting Allawi's abilities, was concerned about his close identification with the Americans and the CIA.

Governing Council member Raja Habib al-Khuzaai told Associated Press Television News that the decision to select Allawi occurred at a special meeting which began at 3 p.m. Friday. Twenty of the council's 22 members were present or represented at the session; all voted for Allawi.

The U.S. governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, was invited to join the session at 4 p.m., and Brahimi was invited an hour later _ ostensibly to discuss other issues. Each was informed of the council decision when he arrived, al-Khuzaai said.

Soon after, Brahimi signaled his acceptance. His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told The Associated Press , "Very, very soon, we will be discussing with the prime minister-designate the formation of the whole Cabinet."

The statement by Brahimi's office appeared to accept the prime minister's post as filled, saying "the interim government, its president and vice presidents included ... (is) still to be formed."

Initially, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Allawi's nomination was only one of many recommendations to Brahimi. But later, the president's spokesman all but endorsed Allawi.

Bremer spokesman Dan Senor told reporters that Bremer attended the session "after the Governing Council had voted on their endorsement for prime minister and congratulated the Governing Council on a very distinguished choice."

The council decision came two days after the purported front-runner, nuclear scientist Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shiite, announced he was not interested in the post _ apparently because established Shiite political factions objected.

Allawi and other Shiite former exiles _ Ahmad Chalabi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim _ also argued that Iraq needed a strong prime minister.

His "nomination has a great deal to do with security since it's ... our main problem," council member Mahmoud Othman said.

Those concerns have become more acute as the countdown to sovereignty continues. Despite an agreement to end fighting around Najaf, a Shiite rebellion led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr continues, as does a Sunni insurgency in central Iraq.

Baghdad and other cities have been rocked by car bombings, including an attack May 17 that killed the head of the Governing Council, Izzadine Saleem. On Thursday, gunmen ambushed the convoy of council member Salama al-Khafaji, killing a bodyguard and her son.

Allawi, a neurologist and businessman, had been involved in the opposition since the 1970s, organizing various groups and coordinating policies with his backers in Washington _ particularly the CIA and State Department.

While living in London in 1978, Allawi survived an assassination attempt believed to have been ordered by Saddam. His Iraqi National Accord advocated a coup against Saddam, but an attempt in 1996 failed.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.



05-29-04, 07:03 AM
Wounded Marine says a miracle saved him

By Rachel Uranga
Staff Writer

SUN VALLEY -- Twice declared dead by medics after a sniper's bullet struck his head in Baghdad, Marine Reserve Sgt. Jesus Vidana never expected to be able recount his brief tour of duty in Iraq.

But thanks to CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta -- who was also a neurosurgeon covering the war and the only one who knew how to treat his near-fatal head wound -- Vidana, 26, is alive and well with his family in Sun Valley.

"I think it's a miracle. I shouldn't be alive," Vidana said. "If Dr. Gupta wasn't there, there would have not been anyone else (to help me)."

On April 8, 2003, the day before Saddam Hussein's bronze statue was toppled in Baghdad, Vidana's unit was patrolling the city while helicopter gunships crisscrossed overhead and machine gun rounds echoed throughout the city.

"It was all so surreal," said the Van Nuys High School graduate, recalling the day that changed his life. "It was my first day in Baghdad and really it was just a job to do."

Vidana was standing behind a cinder block wall, his adrenaline fighting off the exhaustion from a day of ducking bullets and lugging ammunition, radio equipment, food and water.

A radio operator, Vidana was barking orders relayed from his commander when a bullet pierced his helmet.

His colleagues scrambled to revive him, but one medic declared him dead minutes later. Hours later, on a flight back to a field hospital, another medic examined Vidana and listed him as a casualty.

By the time he arrived at the hospital 13 hours after being shot, medics checked him again, and detected a faint heartbeat. But there was no doctor on staff qualified to care for him.

Gupta, who was covering Navy medics for CNN, quickly examined the wound and said he could help.

With few supplies on hand, Gupta improvised, grabbing a drill bit to remove a blood clot in Vidana's head. The crude operation saved Vidana's life.

The two men now correspond occasionally, with Vidana updating the doctor/journalist on his progress.

Vidana remembers awaking from a two-day coma in a Spanish hospital, surprised to see his parents sitting at his bedside.

"It gives you a new outlook on life. I wasn't even expecting to go to war," explained Vidana, a student at University of Southern California when his reserve unit was called into service.

Through a steady physical therapy regime, Vidana has regained the ability to walk, shower and dress himself. But he still suffers from short-term memory loss and bouts of depression caused by a chemical imbalance from the wound.

There are also the daily reminders of his injuries: his Purple Heart, the honorable discharge from the Marines and the quarter-size scar in the back of his head.

But Vidana is working hard to put his life back in order. He is studying to get a license to practice occupational therapy and getting lots of support from his parents and family.

"I knew if God saved him, it was for a reason. He didn't want to keep him in a bed," said Vidana's mother, Maria.

Today, Vidana said, he is taking life one day at a time.

Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 rachel.uranga@dailynews.com


Jesus Vidana was shot in the head while on a tour of Duty with the Marine Corps. in Iraq. (John McCoy / Staff Photographer)



05-29-04, 07:04 AM
Bessemer artillery unit activated to provide security for Marine convoys overseas

Associated Press

BESSEMER, Ala. - Officials said up to 450 members of a Bessemer-based U.S. Marine Reserve artillery unit will be activated to provide security for Marine convoys overseas.

The 4th Battalion of the 14th Marine Regiment, which has between 500 and 550 Marines, also has some members in Huntsville and Chattanooga units.

"We expect to be gone by the end of June," Sgt. Maj. Paul Anderson said.

He said the unit had received a notification of "intent" on Monday, which did not mean activation was certain.

The activation order arrived Wednesday although further clarification of the notice was not expected for 30 days.

Anderson said the unit will have its annual two weeks of active duty training soon.

Members can expect to return home before having to leave again. Reservists will be retrained as military police to provide security for convoys overseas after activation.

Asked whether "overseas" meant Iraq or Afghanistan, Anderson said the unit's likely destination would not be Afghanistan.



05-29-04, 07:06 AM
AP: Military Intelligence Accused of Abuse


WASHINGTON - Several U.S. guards allege they witnessed military intelligence operatives encouraging the abuse of Iraqi prison inmates at four prisons other than Abu Ghraib, investigative documents show.

Court transcripts and Army investigator interviews provide the broadest view of evidence that abuses, from forcing inmates to stand in hoods in 120-degree heat to punching them, occurred at a Marine detention camp and three Army prison sites in Iraq besides Abu Ghraib.

That is the prison outside Baghdad that was the site of widely published and televised photographs of abuse of Iraqi detainees by Army troops.

Testimony about tactics used at a Marine prisoner of war camp near Nasiriyah also raises the question whether coercive techniques were standard procedure for military intelligence units in different service branches and throughout Iraq.

At the Marines' Camp Whitehorse, the guards were told to keep enemy prisoners of war _ EPWs, in military jargon _ standing for 50 minutes each hour for up to 10 hours. They would then be interrogated by "human exploitation teams," or HETs, comprising intelligence specialists.

"The 50/10 technique was used to break down the EPWs and make it easier for the HET member to get information from them," Marine Cpl. Otis Antoine, a guard at Camp Whitehorse, testified at a military court hearing in February.

U.S. military officials say American troops in Iraq are required to follow the Geneva Conventions on POWs for all detainees in Iraq. Those conventions prohibit "physical or moral coercion" or cruel treatment.

The Army's intelligence chief told a Senate panel this month that intelligence soldiers are trained to follow Geneva Convention rules strictly.

"Our training manuals specifically prohibit the abuse of detainees, and we ensure all of our soldiers trained as interrogators receive this training," Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Marine Corps judge hearing the Camp Whitehorse case wrote that forcing hooded, handcuffed prisoners to stand for 50 minutes every hour in the 120-degree desert could be a Geneva Convention violation. Col. William V. Gallo wrote that such actions "could easily form the basis of a law of war violation if committed by an enemy combatant."

Two Marines face charges in the June 2003 death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab at Camp Whitehorse, although no one is charged with killing him. Military records say Hatab was asphyxiated when a Marine guard grabbed his throat in an attempt to move him, accidentally breaking a bone that cut off his air supply. Another Marine is charged with kicking Hatab in the chest in the hours before his death.

Army Maj. Gen. George Fay is finishing an investigation into military intelligence management and practices at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq. Alexander and other top military intelligence officials say they never gave orders that would have encouraged abuses.

"If we have a problem, if it is an intel oversight problem, if it is an MP (military police) problem, or if it's a leadership problem, we have to get to the bottom of this," Alexander told the Senate panel.

Most of the seven enlisted soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib abuses say they were encouraged to "soften up" prisoners for interrogators through humiliation and beatings. Several witnesses also report seeing military intelligence operatives hit Abu Ghraib prisoners, strip them naked and order them to be kept awake for long periods.

Other accusations against military intelligence troops include:

_Stuffing an Iraqi general into a sleeping bag, sitting on his chest and covering his mouth during an interrogation at a prison camp at Qaim, near the border with Syria. The general died during that interrogation, although he also had been questioned by CIA operatives in the days before his death.

_Choking, beating and pulling the hair of detainees at an Army prison camp near Samarra, north of Baghdad.

_Hitting prisoners and putting them in painful positions for hours at Camp Cropper, a prison at Baghdad International Airport for prominent former Iraqi officials.

Military officials say they're investigating all of those incidents.

One focus of the incident at Qaim is Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshover, an interrogator with the Army's 66th Military Intelligence Group. Welshover told The Associated Press on Friday: "I am not at liberty to discuss any of the details."

Welshover was part of a two-person interrogation team that questioned former Iraqi Air Force Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57. Military autopsy records say Mowhoush was asphyxiated by chest compression and smothering.

Army officials say members of a California Army National Guard military intelligence unit are accused of abusing prisoners at a camp near Samarra, north of Baghdad. The New York Times has reported those accusations include pulling prisoners' hair, beating them and choking them to force them to give information.

The Red Cross complained to the military in July that Camp Cropper inmates had been kept in painful "stress positions" for up to four hours and had been struck by military intelligence soldiers.

One of the military intelligence soldiers interviewed in the Abu Ghraib probe claimed some prisoners were beaten before they arrived at Camp Cropper.

Cpl. Robert Bruttomesso of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion told Army investigators he reported that abuse to his chain of command. The report of his interview, obtained by The Associated Press, does not include details on what action, if any, Bruttomesso's commanders took.



05-29-04, 09:17 AM
Marines to begin training Iraqi forces in Fallujah
Loyalties in doubt as US tries to quiet a troublesome city
By Ibon Villelabeitia, Reuters | May 28, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- US Marines will begin training Iraqi forces to try to prevent the flashpoint city of Fallujah from returning to violence after an Iraqi interim government takes over, US commanders and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

With time running out before the US-led administration hands over limited sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, Marine commanders are worrying over the ability of the US-backed Iraqi Civil Defense Forces to provide security in this Sunni Muslim stronghold.

Fallujah, a city of 300,000 with a long history of unrest and still loyal to Saddam Hussein, made headlines after a mob killed and mutilated four American private contractors on March 31 and dragged their bodies through the streets.

The lynching prompted a fierce US offensive in April. Hundreds were killed before a cease-fire was reached.

Marine commanders hope the Civil Defense Forces, created after Hussein's army was disbanded, will keep armed militias off the streets after the handover and not desert, as many did in April.

Some members of the forces, unwilling to fight fellow Muslims, turned their weapons against Marines during the fighting.

Following the April clashes and near-disintegration of the Civil Defense Forces, US commanders and religious leaders agreed to set up a separate Iraqi force -- the Fallujah Brigade, composed almost entirely of insurgents and former members of Hussein's hated Republican Guard -- to restore security.

Creating the Fallujah Brigade ended clashes but legitimized the formation of a Sunni and former Ba'athist force that may pose a challenge for the interim Iraqi government.

The commander and public face of the Brigade is Mohammed Latif, a former general and intelligence officer. Latif dresses in business suits, but many Fallujah Brigade officers wear their Hussein-era drab green uniforms, offending Shi'ite Muslims and members of other religious groups oppressed under Hussein, a Sunni.

It is unclear how the Civil Defense Forces and Fallujah Brigade will work together, but the Americans say they will only train and assist the Civil Defense Forces.

The 2,000-man Civil Defense Forces has two battalions in Fallujah, led by former officers of Hussein's army now working alongside the Americans. They wear US army-style camouflage.

But the Fallujah Brigade, visible on the city's gritty streets but very low-profile otherwise, is considered the real force in charge.

In public, US commanders laud the enigmatic Latif.

But during a memorial service this week for 10 Marines killed in action, Colonel John Toolan, regimental commander of the First Marines Regiment, told his men: "Some of the guys running the Fallujah Brigade are the same guys who fought against us. We have to see if those generals who stepped up to do their job are capable of controlling the youth."

Nuri Aldellemy, a Fallujah Brigade brigadier, said the only link between his force and Hussein's army is the uniform.

Asked if he would hunt "terrorists" after June 30 as the Americans want the forces to do, Aldellemy answered: "When a country is occupied there is resistance. That doesn't mean that those who resist are terrorists."

As June 30 approaches, Marine commanders have been holding security meetings with Civil Defense Forces commanders to plan the transition. Civil Defense Forces troops have stepped up checkpoints and patrols inside Fallujah, leading Marines to withdraw into rural areas.

Instruction of the Civil Defense troops begins tomorrow with about 200 men, who will receive a three-week training course from US Marines on combat operations, patrols, and weapon searches, said Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Abrahim Muhamed, a Civil Defense officer.

Toolan, who has been closely involved in US efforts to rebuild the Civil Defense Forces in Fallujah, told Reuters: "We are basically starting all over again. We have to start again and work closely,"

"I have to be confident because the alternative is going back to where we were in April. We are going to back these guys 100 percent," he told reporters this week after meeting with Iraqi officials.