U.S. troops razing Ramadi buildings to renew security
RAMADI, Iraq — Call it urban renewal Ramadi style.
As part of a new campaign to rid this violent city of insurgents, U.S. Army and Marine engineers have begun leveling a quarter-mile stretch of low-rise buildings that stand directly opposite Ramadi’s long-embattled government center.
The abandoned buildings have been used repeatedly by insurgents to launch attacks on Marines quartered at the government center and other outposts along the city’s main thoroughfare.
By razing the buildings, soldiers with the Giessen, Germany-based 16th Engineer Battalion and Marines with the Camp Lejune, N.C.-based 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion hope to deny the enemy cover for their attacks as well as open up fields of fire for Marines defending the government center.
The first of eight blocks-worth of doomed buildings fell a week ago, after engineers detonated hundreds of pounds of C-4 explosives tamped into walls, pillars and other supporting structures, leaving a vast pile of shattered concrete and twisted rebar.
“You know the opening scene of ‘The Terminator,’ where all you can see is rubble? That’s what it looks like,” said Capt. Damon Knarr, commander of the 16th Engineer’s Company B.
The demolition work, which is done at night to mitigate the risk of enemy attack, was greeted with whoops and cheers by Marines at the government center and other observation towers along the way. As the dust cleared, laser sights swept over the area as Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment explored their new fields of fire.
“This is what we live for,” said Cpl. Kevin Booth, 27, an engineer attached to the 3-8 Marines. “We learn to do demolitions in school and mine clearing. This is the enjoyable part of the job.”
Plans call for the construction of a soccer field and a narrow, grassy mall complete with water fountain in the space where the buildings once stood. Removal of the buildings and the cultivation of a public space is intended to lend credibility and security to the municipal center, which is the seat of government for all of Anbar province.
Before that can happen though, engineers must remove more than a half-million tons of rubble from the scene — a task that is likely to take months to complete.
Ramadi is a densely populated city of roughly 400,000, and one of the goals of the engineers has been to destroy the buildings without causing significant damage to surrounding homes and businesses, including the government center.
“It’s like doing heart surgery with a 36-inch chain saw,” said Army 1st Lt. John Morrow, 28, of Pomeroy, Wash.
The task is complicated by the fact that some of the structures have been booby trapped by insurgents. Other hazards include unexploded ordnance from past battles and deep pools of raw sewage.
Knarr said that during one late night visit, he waded through a pond of sewage and accidentally kicked an unexploded mortar round that had been launched at the government center but had fallen short.
While engineers are well versed in demolitions, they are not generally taught how to destroy entire buildings.
“We’re used to taking down walls, doors and windows, but eight city blocks is something new to us,” said Marine 1st Lt. Ben Klay, 24, of New York City. “In our manuals there are hundreds of pages on taking down bridges, walls and pillars, but nothing on how to take down an entire building. We’ve had a bit of a learning curve, but we’ve hit our stride now. This is something we look forward to sharing with the rest of the Marine Corps.”
The ground battle for Ramadi has involved the Iraqi army and troops attached to the 3-8 Marines, the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment and the Navy SEALs.