Thursday, May 10, 2007

Joint air assault nets suspects

Sgt. Ben Brody

BAGHDAD – In an increasingly common display of interagency cooperation, Iraqi army soldiers and Iraqi national police, aided by U.S. forces, conducted a raid in Al Dhour Monday morning, netting four suspected insurgents.
As darkness fell that night, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, along with Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, boarded UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to stealthily cordon off the targeted neighborhood.

The element of surprise
Once on the ground, joint teams moved quickly and quietly on foot, using moonlight and night vision goggles to navigate the uneven terrain, crisscrossed with irrigation ditches.
Once the dismounted teams were in place, Iraqi national police arrived in Badger armored vehicles to reinforce the cordon, freeing the dismounts to search homes in the former Republican Guard housing area.
“We’ve previously found weapons in this area, and we suspect the neighborhood was used as a staging area for recent car bomb attacks,” said Maj. Steve Simkins, 1/89 Cav. operations officer. “It’s an important transition point for militants moving in and out of southern Baghdad.”
Within the cordon, the force searched about 100 homes and a Sunni mosque, looking for suspects on C Troop, 1/89 Cav.’s list of persons of interest. All males discovered from age 15 to about 60 were led into the street to be checked against the list en masse.
As the primarily Iraqi force moved down Al Dhour’s dark streets, the line of local men grew steadily behind them. Women watched the quiet procession from their rooftops.
After all the neighborhood’s homes were searched, about 90 men were checked against the target list, and four matched the list exactly. Those four were transported to a detention facility, while the others were sent home.
“We decided to air assault on the objective to catch the insurgent element by surprise,” Simkins said. “If we just drove in, they could see us coming from about five kilometers away.”
Leaving as unobtrusively as they arrived, the Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers melted back into the dark fields outside of town and met with the helicopters that brought them in. Minutes later, the troops were back at Camp Striker, congratulating each other on a job well done and discussing their options for breakfast.

Training the Iraqi army
The U.S. Soldiers who participated in the mission are members of 1/89 Cav.’s Military Transition Team, a unit that is responsible for training Iraqi soldiers to work effectively, and ultimately, independently.
“The Iraqi soldiers who are picked for the air assault missions are the really squared-away guys,” said Sgt. Jerrod Solomon, a nine-month veteran of the 1/89 Cav. MiTT. “We’ve got guys from all over Baghdad, with all different backgrounds, working together as a team.”
Solomon, of Augusta, Ga., and the bulk of the 1/89 Cav. MiTT are based at Lion’s Den, a patrol base where U.S. and Iraqi troops live and work together.
According to Simkins, nine months ago the soldiers of 3/4/6 Iraqi army battalion operated three traffic checkpoints and their base was mortared every day.
“We worked with their staff to get the intel picture of their area, and got them out patrolling their streets,” Simkins said. “They were primarily Shia, pro-American guys, who just needed some motivation and direction. At the squad and platoon level, they’ve made great progress.”
The mortars stopped falling as the Iraqi unit’s influence grew in their area of operations. The purchase of new, heavily armored vehicles like the Badger has increased the Iraqi troops’ confidence, Simkins said.
“The next step for the unit is to have them finding their own intelligence, using that intel to plan operations and executing without assistance,” Simkins said.

Working together
Seeing U.S. and Iraqi forces working together is nothing new. But this operation highlighted an increasing push to coordinate operations between the Iraqi national police and the Iraqi army.
Forces from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi National Police Division, who operate checkpoints on a highway near Al Dhour, brought several vehicles to strengthen the cordon around the neighborhood.
A car bomb attack on one of the INP checkpoints, likely staged from Al Dhour, hardened the police force’s resolve to secure the neighborhood, Simkins said.
“The army and the INPs worked together pretty well,” Simkins said. “The locals can look out their front door and see the cooperation.”

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