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Mideast edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq

A weeklong raid into a remote desert area of western Anbar province was a strike into a region the insurgency had until now seen as its own, the Marine officer who led the operation said Monday.

The raiders believe they’ve dealt at least a short-term setback to the insurgents’ ability to mount a summer surge in attacks in cities along the Euphrates River, said Lt. Col. Kelly Alexander, commanding officer of Task Force Highlander.

The operation saw a fast-moving force of light armored vehicles and tanks sweep across the northern desert reaches of the province. They hunted insurgents, their weapons caches and training areas.

The task force also scouted the terrain for further clues to insurgent activity. And it took a census of remote Bedouin camps and villages.

“The bottom line is we’re going to hit ’em hard, hit ’em often, in order to keep them off balance,” Alexander said.

Marines, soldiers, special operations forces and elements of a Navy riverine unit also took part, as did Iraqi soldiers.

The armored force started July 15 from Rawah on the Euphrates River and ranged north 150 kilometers. The task force is headquartered at Combat Outpost Rawah, a short distance from the city. It returned to base Sunday.

The task force uncovered three weapons caches and detained 15 suspected insurgents. Troops also gave flour, sugar, rice and other items to the village.

The task force also called in an air strike that deployed a JDAM precision-guided bomb to destroy a building insurgents had wired with explosives, Alexander said.

And Marines used an incendiary grenade to destroy a vehicle wired with explosives.

“The button was already hooked up, the steering wheel was taped,” Alexander said. “They tape all these wires underneath the dash to the bed of the truck.”

By reaching far out from its usual patrol areas in and near urban centers along the Euphrates, the task force also showed the insurgency that it can strike far and fast when it chooses to, Alexander said.

“What we’ve seen as the population centers become secure in Al Anbar province is the insurgents are moving out to the desert,” he said.

“Previous to this they were under the assumption that they could drive through the area on these desert roads with impunity,” Alexander said. “And now that is not the case.”


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