New Tactic Against Iraqi Insurgency
GIs launch new tactic against enemy fighters (Chicago Tribune)
Nine battalions now hold an area where 13 battalions had been stationed until February. In northern Anbar province, which includes Haqlaniyah, about 3,000 Marines are stretched among outposts in an area the size of South Carolina. While the idea to swarm enemy fighters is not new to the Marines in Iraq, it is rare that they do it fast enough for more than a few dozen Marines to shoot back at the fighters, let alone to surround the fast-moving insurgency. When the Americans shift forces into a town, it is usually only for a few days, and the action is so telegraphed that insurgents and foreign fighters can flee ahead of them. Because several smaller units near Haqlaniyah were ready for other missions April 20, nearly 200 troops from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines were able to respond to the shootout there within the first hour. The troops remained in town for the next three days. When left Haqlaniyah on April 23, things appeared to have returned to normal. The locals had learned on several previous occasions that the Marines rarely stay.
But on April 26, about 500 Marines from 3/25 and other battalions suddenly returned to Haqlaniyah, a small town of about 5,000 on the Euphrates River. Not only were major roads sealed off, but so were the desert and surrounding villages. Troops began rolling into all of Haqlaniyah’s neighborhoods almost at once, and stayed until early Sunday.
Besides being able to actually shoot back at insurgents in the first phase, more than 40 arrests were made in the second phase, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Lionel Urquhart. Marine officials said the insurgents were apparently surprised the Marines had returned.
The first move in the new strategy for Anbar could not have begun in a more mundane way. Just after noon on April 20, two gunmen fired on a civil affairs patrol carrying repair proposals to schools in a neighboring town. A description was sent out of the shooters’ getaway car, which Hanselman’s patrol stumbled across south of Haqlaniyah. But the Americans quickly found themselves outnumbered by an insurgent counterattack that sent gunfire and rockets down on them from several homes on the edge of town. Another American platoon arrived to pin down the Iraqi gunmen, and then a fresh company of troops backed them up.
By the time the fighting died down five hours later, hundreds of Marines from the 3/25 had poured in, supported by tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters. “It’s one of the first times they actually stayed and fought,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Knittle, 35, of Wakeman, Ohio, who was in the initial firefight alongside Hanselman.
Then came the pullout and the surprise return April 26, when hundreds more troops from battalions as far away as the Jordanian and Syrian borders sealed off Haqlaniyah, trapping insurgents and foreign fighters. “Insurgents typically run like rats on a sinking ship,” said Maj. Steve White, the operations officer who directed the fight in Haqlaniyah. “This time, I don’t think they realized the ship was sinking.”
The 3rd Battalion moved almost all of its forces in the area into town April 26 and sat there, hoping for insurgents to grow impatient and begin fighting again. North of them, a company from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, based in Al Qaim, seized the shops, neighborhood and pontoon bridge where the fight had begun a few days before. Across the river and on the outskirts of town, parts of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, stationed on the border with Jordan, blocked off road junctions in the desert.
The insurgents soon tried to fade into the populace. In the five-day operation that followed, there was sporadic gunfire each day, a suicide car bomber and roadside blasts. No Americans were killed, and along with the more than 40 detainees swept up in raids, Marines also netted bomb-making materials, documents and weapons.