WASHINGTON -- Operation Matador is over, Marine officials in Iraq announced today.
The seven-day operation concentrated on cities near the border with Syria. Pentagon officials said many foreign fighters allied with terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slip across the porous Syrian-Iraqi border. The operation concentrated on the Euphrates River cities of Karabilah, Ramana and Ubaydi, a Marine statement said.
Nine Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 died in the operation. Forty more were wounded. The statement said the joint-service team's Marines, soldiers and sailors "killed more than 125 terrorists, wounding many others and detaining 39 terrorists of intelligence value."
Coalition officials were concerned about the region even before fighting in Fallujah in November. The area - part of Iraq's Anbar province - is laced with smuggling routes that go back generations. Tribal loyalties extend on both sides of the border, and families often control smuggling "territory" and charge for services, said Pentagon officials.
Marine officials said terrorists use the area as a staging ground for attacks against Iraqi and coalition targets in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad and Mosul.
The operation began May 7, and Marines killed about 70 terrorists in the first 24-hour period. "Operation Matador confirmed existing intelligence assessments focused on this region north of the Euphrates River, including knowledge of numerous cave complexes in the nearby escarpment," the Marine statement said.
The Marines will continue to monitor the area, officials said. Service members discovered numerous weapons caches containing machine guns, mortar rounds and rocket materials in towns along the Syrian border. "Six vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and material used for making other improvised explosive devices were also found," the statement said.
"Regimental Combat Team 2 started and ended this operation as planned, accomplished its mission and secured all objectives," said Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, 2nd Marine Division commander, quoted in the statement. "Coalition and Iraqi security forces will return again to this area in the future."
In the northern part of Iraq, soldiers of 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade Combat Team seized a large weapons cache May 12. Soldiers found the weapons during a cordon-and-search operation southwest of Qayyarah. The cache included 16 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, a mortar round, one case of fuses, two bags of charges, one pound of C4 explosives and a case of ammunition.
(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq news releases.)