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thedrifter
04-09-07, 01:58 PM
Marine chief calls peace hard-earned
Nearly 1,000 from Kaneohe return from a mission controlling the hotbed of Haditha
By Gregg K. Kakesako
gkakesako@starbulletin.com

Lt. Col. James Donnellan says his battalion of Kaneohe Marines will leave Anbar province and a Sunni insurgent stronghold in western Iraq in the hands of a more stable government.

That will allow succeeding U.S. forces to focus on building bridges, schools, roads and other badly needed structures, said the commander of the nearly 1,000 Marines assigned to Kaneohe Bay's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

"We're very excited about the state of things here, and we're very proud of the battle space we are turning over to the 1/3 (1st Battalion, 3rd Marines)," Donnellan said in a telephone interview from Iraq last week.

Donnellan said he hoped the Kaneohe Marines from his sister battalion would be able now to spend more time on what he describes as the "nonkinetic" aspect of insurgent warfare.

"That takes just as much energy and a lot of persistence to make sure progress continues," the Marine Corps leader added. "The enemy loves nothing more than to find out whoever you are dealing with, to try to intimidate them from accepting a project or building a bridge or repairing a school.

"That's their objective -- to show that anyone who works with the coalition is weak and ineffective."

The 2nd Battalion has been operating since summer 2006 in Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people on the Euphrates River 148 miles northwest of Baghdad that has been the hotbed of insurgent activity in the "triad region" including Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana.

Donnellan, a veteran of two earlier campaigns in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, is set to leave Haditha within two weeks. More than 250 members of his unit were scheduled to arrive home today.

The 1st Battalion will be on its second combat tour to Iraq. During its first tour in 2004, the unit lost 42 Marines and two Navy corpsmen. It also served in Afghanistan from December 2005 to May 2006.

Donnellan said his Kaneohe Marines were thrust into battle with insurgents within a month of arriving in Haditha. His unit assumed control of the towns of Haditha, Haqliniya and Albu Hyatt from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), its sister unit from Kaneohe.

"The transfer of authority coincided with Ramadan (the Muslim holy month)," Donnellan said. "What we didn't find out until later was that the terrorists had learned that 3/3 had identified a police chief. They were concerned and fearful what the Iraqi police would do to them. They wanted to stomp out the IP (Iraqi Police) before it could grow to any type of incredible force.

"That coincided with Ramadan, which typically is an opportunity for them to recruit young disgruntled Iraqi men, which in this case were young boys just 14 or 15 years old, to attack the coalition forces."

From the first day of Ramadan there was a "huge spike in activities," Donnellan said, which "was pretty tough on our battalion."

He said more than half of the 21 combat deaths his battalion suffered occurred from the last weeks of September into October and November. Besides the combat deaths, the unit lost two Marines in December when a helicopter crashed into an artificial lake created by the Haditha Dam.

"The Marines really earned the peace we've got now in January, February and March," Donnellan said.

More than 100 Kaneohe Marines were wounded during the seven-month combat tour.

Donnellan said the battalion's area of operations, along the western edge of the Euphrates River, is near the Buhayrat al Qadisiyyah, an artificial lake created by the largest hydroelectric facility in Iraq. The area the Kaneohe Marines were responsible for initially covered more than 1,250 square miles. It was later reduced to nearly 1,000 square miles, Donnellan said.

He described the current situation as very stable, since his Marines have won the support of the mayor of Haditha and the municipal leaders of several neighboring cities.

Kaneohe Marines built berms around three towns near the Euphrates River and instituted a vehicle and driver registration program after a short-term traffic ban that cut down the number of car bombings, he said.

Ellie