MARINES DROP 'STEEL CURTAIN' ON IRAQ-SYRIA BORDER TOWNS
by Cpl. Micah Snead
American Reporter Correspondent
HU.S.AYBAH, Iraq -- Elements of the 6th Marine Regiment pushed through buildings, streets and the constant threat of improvised explosive devices and enemy attacks to bring stability and security to two Iraq border towns in western Al Anbar province duringh a six-day mission earlier this month.
The Marine of 3rd Platoon, Company L, 3rd Battalion took part in Operation Al Hajip Elfulathi (Steel Curtain), along with more than 2,000 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers from Regimental Combat Team 2 and 1,000 Iraqi Army Soldiers. The Marines pushed through the Euphrates River Valley cities of Husaybah and Karabilah Nov. 5 through 11.
"Our mission (was) to clear and search everything we came across," said 2nd Lt. William J. Milana, 3rd Platoon commander. "We moved in coordination with every other unit through the cities and conducted detailed searches as we went."
The goal of the operation is to restore security along Iraq's border with Syria and to destroy the Al Qaeda in Iraq network operating in the region. Before pushing into Husaybah, Marines occupied battle positions at Camp Gannon, located between the city and the border, and in the river valley north of the city. After weeks of waiting and watching, the Marines finally had a chance to take the fight to the enemy.
"Up until this point, we haven't been able to go into the city," said Lance Cpl. Travis W. Garrett, a 3rd Platoon rifleman. "This is our chance to pay back the people who've been taking shots at us whenever they get a chance. Now, they won't be able to shoot and run."
With gunfire, mortar blasts and detonations ringing out across the city, the platoon swept through by day and rested at night. In addition to being the platoon's first combat operation since clearing the city of Sadah in October, Steel Curtain was an opportunity to get to know their Iraqi counterparts. A four-man fire team of Iraqi Army soldiers was attached to each squad in the platoon and it didn't take long for the Marines and Iraqis to bond.
"I was very impressed with them personally and professionally," said Sgt. Sean T. Selman, a rifleman and squad leader. "We initially conducted a hand-and-arm signal class to make sure they were on the same page with us, but they were ahead of the game. They knew our procedures for movements, searching and clearing and were just as eager as we were to fight the enemy.
"Personally, it was encouraging because I think our greatest key to success will be the Iraqi people taking defense of their country into their own hands. As that happens more and more, our job will become much less difficult."
By Nov. 9, the joint force cleared all of Husaybah and began preparations for a permanent security presence inside. The platoon uncovered several weapons caches and seized buildings used by insurgents to target Camp Gannon.
Beginning Nov. 10, the platoon and all of Company L moved into the river valley north of the cities and conducted searches for Al Qaeda in Iraq members who may have fled. The company then moved to eastern Karabilah and began clear-and-hold operations there.
Deadly IEDs and car bombs littered the streets of Karabilah as the Marines pushed into the city. On the night of Nov. 10, tragedy struck the platoon when Lance Cpl. Daniel Swaim was killed by a pressure plate-triggered IED hidden in a narrow alley. The explosion also injured an Iraqi soldier, one of the platoon's Navy corpsmen and two other Marines.
"I would rather face a firefight with the enemy all day and all night than have to deal with IEDs," Selman said. "It's the worst enemy in the world because you can't fight it back. All we can do is deny this region to the people who would plant them here. These are people who don't care if what they do kills an American or an Iraqi, they are only interested in chaos."
The platoon faced the task of carrying on the operation without Swaim the next day.
"The enemy wants us to quit and this is the only way they can come up with to hurt us," Capt. Richard H. Pitchford, Company L commander, told the platoon the next morning. "Lance Cpl. Swaim would have wanted us to carry on. He will be missed, but the best way to remember him is to keep taking the fight to the enemy."
The platoon uncovered more IEDs as they moved deeper into the city and, on Nov. 11, another blast injured more Marines. The platoon responded to the adversity they faced with courage and professionalism.
"They really showed what they were made of when things got bad," said Staff Sgt. Antonio O. Foster, 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant. "They didn't lose their heads as soon as someone got hurt. Marines and corpsmen were assisting casualties, other Marines posted security without having to be told to, everything they were supposed to do. You always prepare for these moments, but never want them to happen. Times like these are when you find out what kind of Marines you really have."
The Marines moved back to Camp Gannon on Nov. 12 to rest and refit before assuming security positions in and around Husaybah and Karabilah. While the intensity of the operation washed off of them and they came out of their worn socks and uniforms, the next battle was already present in their minds.
"At a time like this, you're already thinking about what's next," said Lance Cpl. Eric A. Thompson, a 3rd Platoon rifleman and fire team leader. "Everyone in this platoon is set on killing the guys who want to hurt us. This is a break, but it's really just time to get ready to go back out."
Cpl. Micah Snead writes for the 2nd Marine Division's official Iraq Website while carrying out combat assignments.