Embedded in Anbar
CAMP DELTA, al-Karma, Iraq — Must make this one short and sweet, as I’m running of of battery on my laptop, but since Thursday evening, I’ve been embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines of the II Marine Expeditionary Force surrounding the garrisoned town of Fallujah. I’ve not yet had a chance to get into the city proper yet, as the 2-2 doesn’t operate there (that’s the 2-6 and 2-7’s area of operations) but al-Karmah is an interesting little town.
It’s just to the north of Fallujah and Camp Delta, home of Fox Company, is nestled in between Fallujah and al-Karmah next to the old Oil-for-Food warehouse. (It’s now an alleged staging area for the insurgents in the area who regularly poke their heads up and take potshots at the Fox Company.)
I just want to share some notes and observations I’ve made over the last two days.
*Friday, October 28, 2005*
For the short drive to Camp Delta just across a half-hearted stream from the town of al-Karma, the Marines of Fox Company ride only at night. They do this to minimize the IED threat, says Capt. Mike Estes, the company commander, which is still ever-present almost a year after U.S. troops attacked the rebel stronghold of Fallujah and its surrounding towns, such as al-Karmah. Dust and grit pepper the googles of Fox Company, because they ride in high-backed, up-armored lorries instead of humvees.
Earlier, Capt. Chad Walton, a spokesman for the 2nd Marines at Camp Fallujah to the south, said that Fallujah was closed to the outside world, with only residents allowed in after showing ID cards that proved their address. The Marines man five entry checkpoints to the city, turning away anyone who can’t provide the proper credentials or whoever they deem suspicious.
“Obviously, it’s not foolproof,” says Walton. “But it’s way better than it was.”
The Marines of Fox Company agree; they talk of driving through the old city without having a shot fired at them. But Fallujah is thoroughly occupied. Iraqi police and Army take second stage to the Americans, who aren’t shy about showing their presence, in contrast to Baghdad where U.S. patrols are almost scarce these days until you get near major installations such as the airport or the Green Zone. The Iraqis aren’t prepared to take over security operations yet, and it will likely be years before they can. Is a thorough occupation what it’s going to take to pacify the restive cities of the Sunni heartland?
*Saturday, October 29, 2005*
It’s still dark when the Marines of 3rd platoon, Fox Company starts out. The idea is to get a jump on their quarry, the leader of a mortar team that has been peppering Fox Company’s base, Camp Delta just south of al-Karmah. The air is cool on the skin and the sun brightens the sky from the direction of Baghdad. Ahead, date palms are black against the indigo sky, and lush greenery of reeds, cottontails, rice, dates and olive trees line the dirt roads.
3rd Platoon takes it easy. The commander, Lt. Anthony Carter of Endicolt, N.Y., doesn’t believe in the brute force method of cordon-and-knock. It’s easier — and more — effective to take a more discreet and polite approach, he says. Whereas the U.S. Army excels are roaring up in humvees, soldiers piling out and putting on a show of force, Carter’s Marines instead walk up to the house where they believe Ali Muhammad Saed, the mortar team leader, is living.
They’re in luck. He’s out front fiddling with his orange-and-white taxi. He doesn’t seem surprised to see him and sits quietly while Carter orders all other military-age men in the immediate neighborhood to be rounded up and brought to Saed’s house. Soon enough, three men and two boys are brought over and they all squat on the porch of the house. It’s possibly the most peaceful and respectful raid in Iraq’s history.
“The days of just running in the house are over,” Carter says. “If you flash-bang every house, you’re not making many friends.”
Saed’s capture is a lucky break, and maybe it will help. Because these days, Fox Company has been catching hell from insurgents who have been pushed out of the city of Fallujah and into the surrounding countryside since U.S. forces wrested the city from insurgent control last November. While direct engagements are rare — the Marines always win and the insurgents know it — IEDs and suicide car bombs are taking a toll on Fox Company. Since their deployment in July, the 2-2 has had 12 Marines killed. Fox company has nine guys out wounded and Carter’s 3rd Platoon has had 6 purple hearts awarded — out of a force of 37 guys. Only one of 3rd Platoon’s awards came from being shot. The rest have come from IEDs and car bombs. So numerous are incoming mortar attacks on Camp Delta that body armor and helmets are required anytime a Marine goes outside a building.
“It’s not more violent,” says Lance Cpl. Thomas Cummings, 21, of Horicon, Wisc. “But what is violent is more intense.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen. As the political process moved forward, embassy officials said all year, the violence should decrease. There would be a coupling in increased Sunni participation and a decrease in violence. But most of the injuries that have befallen 3rd Platoon, says Lt. Carter, have occurred since the Oct. 15 referendum.
Just two hours later, the nearby boom of an IED followed by the rattling of gunfire were a late coda his remarks. An ambush, somewhere. Someone else was catching it today.