Tuesday, November 18, 2008

US Marines Maintain Vigilance on Syrian Border

Reserve Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 search a vehicle parked near the Iraq-Syrian border during a routing security patrol Nov. 9. The vehicle was owned and operated by Iraqi shepherds whose flocks graze on the sparse patches of grass that periodically spring up in the desert. (Photo by Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5.)

Iraqi construction workers unload concrete blocks to construct a guard post for the Iraqi Border Patrol along Iraq's border with Syria Nov. 9. Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 stopped by to check up on the workers' progress while on a routine security patrol of the area. (Photo by Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5.)

An Iraqi laborer lays floor panels on the top floor of a border fort currently under construction on Iraq's border with Syria Nov. 9. Reserve Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 stopped in to inspect progress on this fort, which is scheduled to be operational next month. (Photo by Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5.)

Dispatches from the Front:

AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2008 -- Reserve Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 based here drove more than 200 miles Nov. 9 to conduct a security patrol and inspect construction of new Iraqi forts along the country’s border with Syria.

In mid-October, the Marines of 2nd Bn., 25th Marines began conducting patrols in support of Iraqi Security Forces in western al-Anbar province, which for several years in the recent past was a hotbed for weapons and insurgent trafficking, as well as oil and drug smuggling.

The patrol departed the base shortly after dawn, and within an hour stopped along one of the main highways cutting through al-Anbar to assist the driver of a tractor trailer that had jackknifed and come to a rest on its side on the shoulder of the road.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Dumelle, 34, a platoon commander with 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, ensured that the Iraqi driver was all right and notified the Iraqi highway patrol. The Marines then mounted up in their humvees and made their way to the border.

Most of the Iraq-Syrian border is marked by two parallel dirt berms about 300 meters apart. In the middle is “no man’s land,” where mine fields were laid in various locations by Iraqi troops during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Border Patrol constantly roves their side of the border area, and the Marines of 2nd Bn., 25th Marines assist them.

“Our mission is to conduct periodic security patrols of a key border area and to provide over watch of Iraqi Security Forces,” said Dumelle.

“The important thing is to make sure they’re doing their job and that they’re being taken care of,” added Dumelle, a Long Island, N.Y., native who works as a property manager for a commercial real estate firm in his civilian career.

While traversing the lunar-like surface along a dirt road within a stone’s throw of the border, Dumelle halted his platoon at a remote site to inspect two trucks which he suspected may be smuggling oil.

The Marines inspected the vehicle and Dumelle, with the help of an interpreter, questioned one of the drivers. Dumelle’s Marines searched the vehicles and found animal feed, tanks of water and veterinary medicine and medical supplies.

“Their story didn’t quite add up, but we didn’t have anything to hold them on,” said Dumelle, who added, “You can’t catch a fish every day.”

A few kilometers away, the patrol spotted a flock of more than 200 sheep grazing on the sparse patches of grass that spring up through the desert rocks and sand.

The Marines continued on their way north to inspect the border fort projects.

The new Iraqi government has been working vigilantly over the past year to replace the aging forts which dot the borderline with Syria.

At the first border fort, the Iraqi construction workers were about a month into their project. They were unloading concrete blocks from the back of a rusty dump truck in the blazing morning sun.

“It’s always good to see reconstruction,” said Dumelle, as he got out of his humvee to talk to the workers.

Adnan Farhan Retha, 23, is a Ramadi native who has been working in the construction business for about four years and has been on this site since they broke ground in October. His brother’s company was contracted by the government of Iraq to construct this fort. Retha expressed a sense of pride in his work, which he explained, “is important to protect our country from insurgents crossing over.”

When asked if he has any fear about working in this remote location so close to a Syrian border fort, Retha responded, “They are human, and I am human. Why should I be scared?”

The Marines gave the workers handfuls of snack-sized Halloween candy packets that one of them had received in the mail from home, then loaded up and pressed on into the afternoon.

Construction workers were putting the final touches on Border Fort 10A, which the Iraqis refer to as “Al Furat.”

Salah Ahmed, 32, is the site supervisor. Through an interpreter, Ahmed conveyed the sense of accomplishment he feels in looking at his near-finished project. He spoke of the hardships he and his men have faced of the past eight months. From the extreme cold last winter, when they struggled to lay the building’s foundation, through the broiling heat of summer, the team has weathered the elements and seen their project through to near-completion.

“We stay close together,” said Ahmed. “We have cooperation.”

The Marines’ last stop before refueling at Combat Outpost Waleed to go home was at Border Fort 12, which is up and running. Dumelle made sure the patrolmen had been paid and were equipped with sufficient rations of supplies.

Patrolman Hazam Eshia Abdel Hassan, 32, is a Baghdad native who has been on the border patrol for the past four years. A 10-year Iraqi Army veteran, he said that despite the physical hardships he has experienced on the border, he is determined to protect his country and one day aspires to become an officer.

“Going on patrol is my favorite,” said Hussan through an interpreter. “I am looking forward to catching the terrorists.”

The Marine convoy arrived safely back at Camp Korean Village shortly after dusk, the lead vehicle narrowly avoiding a large chunk of an engine laying on the dark highway, which had broken off a vehicle during an earlier accident.

“We definitely made our presence known out there,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Fisher, 20, a Weapons Company rifleman and Reserve Marine from Newton, Kan., who spent about eight hours behind the wheel of his humvee during the patrol.

“Coalition forces are trying to stop smugglers, and we’re not just going to let them walk through,” insisted Fisher. “Hopefully we have subdued the traveling of insurgents in and out of that area. Our skills we learned during our (pre-deployment) training at Twentynine Palms, (Calif.), are really being put to use out there.”

(Report by Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5.)

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