View Full Version : On the front line in Iraq

11-28-06, 07:38 AM
On the front line in Iraq <br />
By CBS News <br />
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For an hour and a half on Monday, Sunni rebels went at an Iraqi government headquarters and two U.S. military outposts in the town of Ramadi. They used...

11-29-06, 04:11 PM
11/29/2006 <br />
An Ithacan Inside the War Zone <br />
By: Mark Finkelstein <br />
<br />
Camp Al Taqaddum, Anbar Province, Iraq - When I last wrote, my group was heading out of Baghdad on our...

11-30-06, 09:14 AM
On patrol in Fallujah: Danger zone
BY JOE SWICKARD, Det. Free Press

Updated: 11/30/2006 2:20:42 AM

Marines' credo: Stop trouble before it kills

FALLUJAH, Iraq - "Patrollin', patrollin'," a turret gunner sang, encased in chicken wire like somebody in a carnival dunk tank as the line of Humvees growled out of Charlie Company's base camp. "We're patrollin' through Fallujah."

In the battle to keep order in this Sunni-dominated city in Anbar province, Charlie Company - about 200 men from the Michigan-based 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment - is the on-site boss, rolling the streets day and night to chase down or run off insurgents.

While other parts of Iraq are ripped apart by factions, and the sectarian violence in Baghdad worsens daily, the scene in Fallujah is different but no less deadly. The city has endured some of the bloodiest urban combat of the war. Now the Marines are fighting to keep Fallujah from becoming an insurgent stronghold again, as it was two years ago.

Making their home in a battered school administration building, the men of Charlie Company comprise the only unit that lives in the center of the city, where insurgents have killed scores of Marines with roadside bombs, ambushes and sniper fire.

With its sandbagged windows and cheap fluorescent lamps fighting a haze of cement dust, the place has an eerie, eternal twilight quality - like a casino, only with machine guns and bulletproof vests stacked up in the halls.

The men - students, sheriff's deputies, firefighters and even a personal banker who loves heavy metal music - say they'd rather make nice with the residents, but they don't waste time in confronting those who have other ideas.

"We'll be jumping out if somebody's mean-mugging us," Cpl. Anthony Tavormina, 22, of Toledo told members of his mounted patrol before they took to the streets on a recent day.

Mean-mugging - dirty looks, the evil eye or a hostile gesture - isn't tolerated by Charlie Company. When they see it on the streets, the men get in the Iraqi's face for aggressive questioning, ID checks and, for anyone who doesn't get it right, a possible trip to what's called the Wayne County Jail, the new detention facility at nearby Camp Baharia.

Cpl. Shawn Wilson, a 27-year-old Oakland County sheriff's deputy and former Detroit police officer, said going after insurgents and troublemakers is all about making sure the people of Fallujah have a chance at a better life.

"It's like working a block back home," he said. If a block has one good family and nine bad ones, you don't let the nine bad stop you from protecting the one.

"You treat that house with respect," he said.

Most of the residents want peace, said commanding officer Capt. Mike Mayne - a guy who is already legendary in the unit for asking a translator who said Fallujah was too dangerous whether he was a coward. But the broken windows theory of crime control applies here. Not tolerating the little stuff heads off the big problems later.

The Marines pare it down to the notion that, if somebody is dense enough to pick a fight with them, well, they're ready to go. "If they're nice, we're nice," said Sgt. Bryce Sobol, 25, a personal banker from Freeland. "If they get stupid, we get stupid."

No one doubts the dangers of Fallujah from snipers, from roadside bombs. But it doesn't have the death squads found in Baghdad, and the Marines are able to keep the worst violence under control.

When Charlie rolls, all other traffic stops. Drivers who ignore clear warnings can be met with deadly force.

Even toilets can be dangerous

In Fallujah, Charlie is an active verb: Consider a Saturday midday patrol with Cpl. Dennis Rodeman, 22, of Vermontville.

The 3rd Squad of the 3rd Platoon went to deliver a message to a corner gas station, the scene of a couple of grenade attacks on the unit, said Rodeman, a firefighter and international business student at Michigan State University.

Pulling up to the station where gas is sold from barrels and plastic jugs, the Marines jumped out and emptied the fuel into the street. The owner and attendants pleaded they had nothing to do with the grenades.

OK, Rodeman said, but there is still a price to pay, even if the bad guys just use the place as cover. "Any more grenade attacks," he said, "and we're going to burn down the gas station."

Rodeman shrugged off the contradiction of ending the encounter with thanks all around: "It's like going into your house, thrashing your bedroom and then saying, "Hey, let's go to lunch.' "

Under the constant threat of sniping by mujahideen insurgents, Charlie Company has learned that any step outside requires a helmet and full body armor - even a trip to a portable toilet. And you have to do the sniper dance - juking and dekeing so no one can get a good aim on you.

Even the Humvees dance. When the men are dismounted, the drivers roll the vehicles back and forth so a sniper can't line up a shot on a door to pick off a returning Marine.

But you can't dance past an IED - an improvised explosive device - like the roadside bomb that hit a patrol from the 3rd Squad of the 1st Platoon on Saturday night. The four-vehicle caravan was doing snaps and house calls - random quick searches of vehicles and homes - and checking known trouble spots.

Rolling under a crescent moon along Fran, a major east-west thoroughfare with a history of ambushes, the convoy passed a darkened Iraqi government building when the street went blindingly bright. An instant later, a flame ball erupted from the right curb, between the third and fourth vehicles, known as Vic 3 and Vic 4. White flames shot across the road in a sharp explosion.

The men quickly piled out of the Humvees, taking cover and setting up a perimeter. There were no casualties.

"All good. We're all good," they radioed each other.

But the men have to wait. The IED could be a setup, the attack followed with rockets, gunfire or another IED. Taking positions in a ruined concrete block building, Lance Cpl. Justin Dieting, 25, of Romeo and Lance Cpl. Enrique Rakowski, 25, of Manistee recalled attacks in which snipers picked off their buddies or insurgents fired rockets at them.

In the dark, the men's whispers wove together, recounting their experiences:

You're sitting in your Vic and the next thing stumbling empty-handed in the roadway. Your weapon's on the ground, the Humvee's burning, and everything's a little tilted and crazy.

You get a couple of days off, notification of a Purple Heart and wonder if the shrapnel still in your body will set off airport metal detectors.

Your dead partners never really leave Charlie. You feel them every time you pass the sites of their deaths, remember their wisecracks or hear a familiar tune.

After the area was secured and evidence collected by explosives teams, the patrol resumed, and men noted they'd passed that intersection at least once before that night.

The IED was a speed bump - a device set on a paved road and then detonated by a triggerman when a vehicle passes over it. A second sooner on the trigger, and Vic 3 would have gone up. A second later, Vic 4 would have been gutted and smoking.

That night, everybody, Marines and the bomber alike, made it back home.

Contact JOE SWICKARD at jswickard@freepress.com.

Web Editor: John Bumgardner, Assignment Desk


12-06-06, 08:08 AM
Ramadi Marines on the front line against Al-Qaeda in Iraq

by Thibauld Malterre
Tue Dec 5, 1:36 PM ET

From the vantage point of the 17th Street security station, the grim vista of downtown Ramadi stretched out before Marine Corporal Anthony Bell in an apocalyptic expanse of bullet-riddled buildings.

"You have to watch for everything," said Bell of Alpha company, who at 21 is on his second tour in Iraq. "We already had different types of bombs, sniper attacks and a lot of small arms fire."

As he described his life in the shattered downtown of this urban battleground between US forces and Al-Qaeda in Iraq's restive western Al-Anbar province, a fusillade of shots rings out, followed by an explosion.

Just 150 meters (yards) away, Observation Post Firecracker was briefly attacked, with the gunfire ending almost as soon as it started and leaving the marines with no clear targets to fight back against.

"They are harassing us on a daily basis," said another marine, who likened the attacks to a kind of local propaganda campaign. "We know they're ineffective, but the people around here don't."

"We would welcome any firefight the terrorists want to engage in," he added.

Instead of one pitched battle, however, the life of the marines here is one of constant tension and sudden, brief attacks, as they try to regain control over one of Iraq's most dangerous cities.

The 1st battalion of the 6th regiment is just the latest marine unit to take on the harsh job of securing Ramadi's downtown -- a vast sea of drab low-rise pockmarked buildings, punctuated by the occasional minaret.

Earlier in the year, entire neighborhoods of the city had been effectively given up to the insurgents, who chose Ramadi as the place to declare their Islamic Caliphate back in October.

But now, thanks to outposts such as Firecracker and the 17th street station, the marines are back.

According to US military officials, the spike in casualties over the past few months in Al-Anbar province -- the scene of the lion's share of American war dead -- was because of this push back into the city.

"We used to have to fight to go to this station," recalled Captain Sean Dynan whose regular supply runs out to Alpha company keep these marines in food and equipment.

"It is still a bad part of the city. We take extra precautions when we go in, but it is in no way off limits."

The marines do foot patrols in the area, both day and night, moving in erratic zig zags across the trash-strewn streets and occasionally breaking into a short run across intersections.

For the most part, the marines have a pretty negative opinion of the marksmanship of Iraqi gunmen -- whether insurgent or soldier -- dubbing their fully automatic approach with their assault rifles "spray and pray".

But it is the insurgents' small but elite bands of snipers, many of whom, rumor has it, are from outside Iraq, that keep the marines shifting from foot to foot in an effort to reduce their vulnerability to these hidden shooters.

"Make it difficult to be a target, don't stay long on the road, and go to see people inside their houses," Lieutenant Jared Towles told his men before the patrol.

"I told them that not everybody's bad, even if it is sometimes hard to remember that because insurgents are part of the population, but a lot of families live in the area," added the 25-year-old officer.

The men prefer to make their patrols after dark, when their night vision goggles give them a tactical advantage and their only companions are the packs of feral dogs that roam the deserted streets of the city.

As difficult as it seems in a such a complicated battlefield, the marines said they go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties -- not always easy when the attacks are sudden and seemingly come from nowhere.

"When we're on patrol, people will come up to us and say 'I've had enough' and we tell them, 'it's you who can stop it, send your sons to the police,'" said Alpha company commander Captain Kyle Sloan.

"I ask my marines to be very careful at what you shoot at. We only shoot when we know we're gonna kill or wound an insurgent. People have seen that, and now children are playing football nearby," he said.

Other units are not always so careful. Last Tuesday, army soldiers in the northeast of the city fired tank rounds into a building from which insurgents were shooting at them and killed five Iraqi girls, including an infant.

Five minutes' drive from Firecracker is a defunct school for disabled children that has been turned into a station for the city's fledgling police force, which will one day have to take over security duties from the marines.

In a firefight not far from the station a few months ago, several civilians were wounded in the crossfire and taken by the marines to their base hospital -- producing a marked change in the local attitude towards them.

"We treated civilian casualties back in September, and after we started doing that they stopped firing at us for a month-and-a-half," said Dynan.

In recent weeks, though, the shooting has started once again.


12-08-06, 09:24 AM
Patrolling Fallujah on a 'typical day'
12/07/2006 @ 10:51 am
Filed by Bill Roggio (PMI)

Raw's Iraq correspondent rides along on a patrol of one of the two main arteries through the Fallujah region

The city of Fallujah and its surrounding environs have both a symbolic and strategic importance for the security of Iraq.

The region south of Fallujah, including the towns of Amaryiah and Ferris, is patrolled by the Marines of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. The regiment also has three additional companies. I embedded with the "Gators," the Marines of Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion, commanded by Captain Eric Dominijanni.

The traditional mission of an Assault Amphibious Battalion is to land Marines on the beach, using their huge Amphibious Assault Vehicles (or AAVs), which hold up to 20 Marines and a crew of three. But here in Iraq, the Gators have been assigned to patrol Route Mobile, one of the two largest roads running east-west through Anbar province, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Today I patrolled Route Mobile with the Marines of 2nd Platoon, 3rd Section, which calls itself The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There are four tracks to a section, and the Amphibious Assault Vehicles of the 3rd Section, led by Staff Sergeant Joshua Meyers, are aptly named White Horse, Red Horse, Black Horse, and Pale Horse. I accompanied Red Horse, commanded by Sergeant Joseph Borgard.

This route can be dangerous. Insurgents drop roadside bombs out of cars, place them in craters, or dig holes and bury them, in hopes of killing Marines and destroying vehicles. Four AAVs have been disabled in the three months since Bravo Company has been in theater, and the company was hit three times over the past week. A Marine was killed during one of these strikes.

Most of the patrols are uneventful, however. Many of the roadside bombs are easily spotted and subsequently destroyed by an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team. Today's patrol also was uneventful, which is "typical," according to "Doc" Eric Hughes, the Navy Corpsman assigned to the section.

We patrolled the entire length of the Gators' section of the road, beginning in an area north of Habbaniyah and proceeding almost as far as Abu Ghraib.

The section stopped and searched a car containing four Iraqi men but found nothing. There were textbooks in the car and they appeared to be students.

We also ran across an ambulance on the side of the road with its windows blown out and tires shot. The Iraqi Highway Patrol was there before us and left after we arrived, as they wanted the Marines to tow it. The Iraqi police then showed up and towed the ambulance away.

Route Mobile had a heavy security presence. During the patrol, we saw two Iraqi Police patrols, a Highway Police patrol, an Iraqi Army patrol and two convoys of Marines. The Marines I was with said this was typical.

Despite this presence, black scars from bomb blasts were visible on the asphalt.

Many of the roadside bombs are what are called "pop and drops," indicating that the roadside bomb is armed, then hastily dropped from a vehicle. These often can be more dangerous to the insurgents than to their targets, as they can detonate prematurely.

"Some of these guys get killed planting those," I was told by Corporal Dave Guerra.

Late in the evening, we stopped to provide overwatch on a section of Route Mobile. This was the same area where the Marine from Bravo Company had been killed.

An Iraqi family came out and the Marines gave them MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) and some candy and snacks. We pulled away after a cool, dusty sunset and headed back to Camp Fallujah.

After the mission, the Marines discussed the effectiveness of the Iraqi Army and Police. They spoke highly of the Army. "Those guys are motivated, they will wave to you," said SSgt Meyer. This is no surprise, as the 1st Division is the oldest and most seasoned division in the Iraqi Army.

But both Sgt Borgard and SSgt Meyer were less kind to the police, whom they described as "corrupt" and "gangsters."