Marines launch raid to stem any summer attacks
COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq — U.S. Marines traveling in fast-moving armored columns launched a new raid into a remote stretch of desert in western Anbar province Wednesday.
The drive is a fresh effort to trip up any insurgent attempt at mounting a summer offensive.
The raid, which also includes a special operations element of U.S. Navy SEALs, aims to scout a large tract of desert in the northwest of Anbar, to a point near the Syrian border, said Marine Lt. Col. Kelly Alexander, commanding officer of Task Force Highlander. A company of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division is also taking part.
The raiders will hunt for insurgents and their weapons caches, training sites and safe havens.
Also a target are any criminals who may be in the area, including oil pirates whose activities undercut Iraq’s economic development efforts, Alexander said in an interview late Wednesday night at his headquarters at Combat Outpost Rawah, near the Euphrates River in western Anbar.
“Mount up!... Mount up!... Mount up…!” was the shout heard around one of the outpost’s staging areas Wednesday afternoon as Marines finished loading their armored vehicles with ammunition and supplies, hefted on their body armor, adjusted their helmets, and climbed quickly aboard.
The raid is the latest in a stepped-up series of operations that began several weeks ago at various points around western Anbar.
Marine officers have said the insurgents have increased attacks during each of the previous three summers.
“The last three years, attacks spiked,” Alexander said. “The month of July was very quiet…. So, disrupt them enough” with operations like this latest raid and any insurgent move toward an offensive might be short-circuited, he said.
The task force’s operation, dubbed Punisher II, comes within days of a similar operation, Punisher I, which saw U.S. Marines and soldiers backed by Marine aircraft scour the parched recesses of two sprawling wadis northeast of Rutbah. Troops returned last weekend from that operation.
As part of their scouting of the area during the current operation, the troops will also take a census of those in Bedouin camps and any others who may be living in the area, Alexander said.
The raiding force consists mainly of Marine Corps eight-wheeled light armored vehicles, or LAVS, of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and Abrams tanks of Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, 2nd Marines, supported by Marine Corps aircraft.
In addition, the force is bringing with it boxes of pre-packaged humanitarian supplies to distribute at the discretion of commanders on the scene, Alexander said.
Each box consists of one 10-pound bag of rice; three 5-pound bags of sugar; one package of powdered milk; three packs of paper; three packs of pencils; and a back pack. Soccer balls will also be distributed.