Iraqi Training Proceeds in Anbar Province
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 4, 2006 While training of Iraqi army units in Iraq's Anbar province has lagged behind other regions, progress is being made. A case in point was a June 2 patrol.
An Iraqi soldier stands guard during a census in Hit, Iraq, June 2. Iraqi soldiers are leading squad patrols in the Euphrates River city. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It was still more than 100 degrees as Iraqi and American soldiers loaded aboard two Bradley fighting vehicles and a Humvee. The setting sun burned through the dust on the horizon as the vehicles kicked up their own rooster tails of the talcum powder-like soil.
Eight Iraqi soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Division, were to patrol in downtown Hit and conduct a census of military-age males. U.S. officials chose the street because they had captured a sniper there earlier. "We go back periodically because we want them to know we are watching," said Army Capt. Eric Stainbrook, commander of Apache Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry.
Capturing or killing snipers is important to this unit. Their only loss so far has been to a sniper, although they have been hit numerous times by improvised explosive devices.
The battalion is partnered with the Iraqis and is working to train them to take over the security responsibilities from coalition forces. In the past, eight Americans would conduct the patrol, accompanied by three Iraqis. Now that is reversed, with eight Iraqis and a few Americans observing and standing by in case they need assistance. "It's the Iraqi squad leader's patrol," said Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Bullard, a platoon sergeant from 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, who serves as trainer for the Iraqis. "He needs to show the initiative and to take charge of his squad."
As the small convoy moves through the streets, the local citizens stare, with neither a smile nor a wave as the armored vehicles pass. The main street is full of shops. They are stocked with all types of goods, and market stalls are full of fruit and vegetables. Money is being made in this city, because new houses are being built. But no one is sure where the money is coming from, soldiers here said, because the cement plants that were the bulwark of the economy have been closed and few people "commute" any more to Ramadi or Baghdad.
The stony looks change once the soldiers dismount. The Iraqis can see faces, and many of them are Iraqi faces. The stony stares are replaced by "Salaams," and children come running to see what is happening.
The Iraqi squad leader looks to his American counterpart for guidance. "Tell him that this is his patrol," Bullard said to his interpreter. "Tell him he must make the decisions."
The squad leader hesitantly approaches the first house. It's the house where the sniper was captured, and a woman answers the door. The American soldiers hang back and watch, and listen to the interpreter as the exchange goes on. No there are no men in the house, the woman says. We will check, says the Iraqi soldier. They do, and find she was telling the truth. They move back onto the street.
"Should I go to the next house?" the squad leader asks Bullard. "It's your patrol," the sergeant says simply. They move to the next house.
The squad continues, and in houses where they find military-age males, they take their names and get a photo, and then move on.
By the time they finish the block, it is dark. A half-moon hovers over the city, and the temperature is finally under 100. The streets are dominated by the smells of open sewers and of garbage piled onto nearby open areas. In some places, Iraqis have set fire to the garbage, and the flickering glow from these fires take the place of streetlights.
The squad simply patrols through the streets and moves to the link-up point with the vehicles. As the soldiers get ready to board, four explosions ring out, followed by machine-gun fire. The Americans and Iraqis take cover and look. "I see tracers over there," shouts Spc. Darius Smith, a medic with 1/37. "Someone is rock and rolling."
The radio net comes alive. The explosions were probably mortar rounds. "Where did they land?" the commander asks.
"Don't know," squawks the radio.
"Where did they come from?"
"Possibly the cemetery."
The patrol is near the cemetery, and Iraqi and American soldiers pile into the vehicles and roar off. They arrive, and the Americans use their night optical devices to peer over a section of breeched wall. No movement. The squad moves into the cemetery. The graves are shallow, and some show signs of dogs digging in them. There is little room between the graves, but the soldiers look for signs of a firing position and of insurgents. The patrol moves from the northeast to the southwest through the graveyard.
They find no one in the cemetery and no launching point.
The men gather at the wall behind a mosque and call for the vehicles. The squad walks to the Bradleys and loads up.
As they arrive back at their base, there are still other patrols out. Bullard discusses training for the squad as a result of what he has seen during the patrol. Other Americans gather at the Apache company tactical operations center and listen to radio reports and assess the Iraqi patrol.
On the board dominating the center is the list of missions for the next day. And the Iraqi squads are again moving out.