Camp Lejeune Marines search 'Smugglers Town'

14 Feb 2007 | Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp

While the rest of the battalion is miles away, Marines from C Company are working a “smugglers town” in western Iraq.

As a whole, Marines from the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion are stretched throughout the Al Anbar Province.

Some conduct security operations in cities like Rawah and Anah, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, while Company C assists the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Rutbah, a city of roughly 30,000 about 50 miles east of the Jordanian border.

While most of the area consists of flat desert with sporadic small towns, Rutbah exists in what might seem an unlikely, uninhabitable place.

However, the city lies on a trade route hundreds of years old, and almost a necessary stop for legitimate traders as well as smugglers bringing weapons or insurgents deeper into the heart of Iraq, Marines here say.

“Around this area, Rutbah is the center of everything,” said Sgt. Ryan Daugherty, a 24-year-old platoon sergeant who has been to this part of Iraq once before and is currently on his third deployment.

While the different types of units the 15th MEU brings helps them effectively conduct operations inside the city, Marines here say, it’s 2nd LAR that essentially controls who and what goes in and out of Rutbah.

A year ago Marines built a sand berm around the city. Since then, they’ve been guarding the only entrances in and out of Rutbah, searching vehicles and checking names of known insurgents.

“The first three months we worked the (traffic control point): searching vehicles, screening people and watching the berm around the city to make sure no one was trying to get past us,” said Daugherty, a Cotati, Calif., native.

“When we first got there, it wasn’t bad, it was quiet,” said Cpl. James Dillon, a 22-year-old infantryman from Milton, W. Va. “After that it picked up.”

Daily pop-shots at the Marine TCP from the city were considered normal after a while, and on at least three occasions Marines fought off multiple insurgents.

“We would be attacked by squad-sized elements that we had to defend our position against,” Daugherty said. “I definitely didn’t run into that situation before.”

Many of the Marines in LAR are on their second deployment and operated in this area last year. The knowledge of the area and people they’ve gained from their previous experience has proved to be useful, Marines here say.

Many people don’t seem to want to get involved with either side, Daugherty said. They’re not “pro-insurgency,” but they’re making sure they don’t seem eager to befriend Marines, in fear of terrorists taking repercussions on their families, he added.

Marines from C Company are making progress removing that fear. By keeping the area surrounding the city free of improvised explosive devices, they allow the safe passage of both Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces.

Their checkpoints disrupt the smuggling, and effectively deny the enemy use of the city,.

“Day-to-day and little-by-little, we’re taking away the enemy’s ability to operate so the people will feel safer,” Daugherty added.

“We want the people to trust us, because we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
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