US Marines Drawing Down in Iraq
Dispatches from the Front:
KARMAH, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2008 -- Marines with Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and other coalition forces are making operational adjustments.
In the wake of the decrease in violence tied to the improvements in the Iraqi security forces and governance, Marines have started pulling back.
In al Anbar province, Marines have already begun demilitarizing and realigning operating posts and increasing operational area with fewer Marines, as Iraqi security forces continue to step forward and gain control. Coalition forces were once sprawled throughout Anbar, maximizing their presence within communities by operating out of outposts throughout cities and towns.
Living amongst the population enabled Marines to deny insurgents freedom of movement; however, the proficiency and competency of local forces have allowed coalition forces to continue stepping back.
Camp Fallujah, a central U.S. base in the area, was pivotal in supporting the surrounding combat outposts. Yet with sweeping decreases in enemy activity, the camp, once one of the largest in Anbar province, has been demilitarized and is being turned over to the government of Iraq.
Marines operating in the greater Fallujah area, a onetime insurgent stronghold widely seen as vital to the province, have already transitioned to an over-watch position. The maturity of Iraqi security forces is evident as they have progressively begun conducting patrols independently, requesting coalition forces support as they feel necessary.
Marines, upon request by Iraqi security forces, supplement Iraqi patrols and search or detain suspected insurgents only with approved warrants and Iraqi security forces support.
Concurrent with the drawdown of U.S. Forces, Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, recently inherited additional areas, over fifty percent larger than its original battle space where it was once necessary for two battalions to provide security. Coalition troops will further disburse and decrease as forces realign their presence and Iraqi security forces operate in increasingly independent roles.
“It’s definitely a sign that we, and the Iraqi security forces, are headed in the right direction,” said Capt. Michael Deredita, a 26-year-old assistant operations officer from Stafford, Va., with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.
Once considered the deadliest area in al Anbar, Iraqi forces operating in Karmah have made the consolidation possible by substantial gains in proficiency and competence.
“On our level, this would be like us passing the baton to the Iraqi people right before the finish line,” Deredita explained.
Iraqi security forces in the expanded area and throughout the area of operations have even begun turning away Marines on patrols, thanking them for their support and informing them assistance is not necessary.
With Marines turned away from patrolling and Iraqi security forces leading operations, the provisions of the drawdown illustrate much of the operational shift Marines have already made on the ground.
“Due to the nature of the [area of operations], just by pure numbers [Marines] had already begun transitioning to an over-watch position,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Rhodes, the commander of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, from Chicago.
With less responsibility in the area Marines have also been able to shift even more focus on training the Iraqi army and police.
“Our big focus now is embedded reconstruction teams,” Rhodes said. “Once [Iraqi security forces] have their systems in place our withdrawal is imminent at that point.”
The Marines’ guidance and mentorship has shifted to organizational and logistics training, ensuring sustainability for local forces after they are gone.
“We suggest focus areas,” explained Rhodes, regarding the evolving role of Marines. “We facilitate city council meetings, share information, pretty much play the neutral party to keep things moving in the right direction. To be honest, our biggest problem is keeping the platoons, squads, gainfully employed.”
With the rise in Iraqi security forces competency and confidence, the vision of a sustainable peace and prosperity in Iraq is closer to becoming reality.
(Report by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis, Regimental Combat Team 1.)
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