KARMAH, Iraq --
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, are quickly revealing themselves to be in tune with the requirements of counterinsurgency warfare.
Karmah and its surrounding countryside is known as one of the last bastions of insurgent activity in RCT-6’s area of operations. Only a matter of weeks since arriving in Iraq, Marines with “America’s Battalion” have gradually turned reality against perception, said Lance Cpl. Travis I. Stoner, a grenadier with third platoon. He said striking a balance between aggressive action and respectful treatment of the Iraqis is crucial to winning their trust.
“Going out on patrols you have to have the mindset that you’re going to have (enemy) contact, but you have to treat people with respect,” said Stoner, a San Antonio native.
The Marines aren’t simply conducting patrols and manning checkpoints in the city, however. They are also training Iraqis to stand watch at the checkpoints, effectively training their replacements, said Sgt. Jeffrey K. Kelley, a 26-year-old Pueblo, Colo., native.
“All we do is go out there with some (barriers) and fill them full of dirt,” said Kelley, a squad leader with third platoon. “(Local residents) come out of their houses with their (rifles) saying, ‘I don’t want to have insurgents on my street,’ and they’re protecting it on their own. It’s been a huge success since … we came out here.”
Second Lt. William O. Over, a 25-year-old platoon commander with Company L, 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, said extra sets of eyes and ears on the street, eyes and ears belonging to local residents, is a huge boon to the Marines. The intricate tribal network in the area is a low-hanging fruit for gathering intelligence about any insurgents in the area.
“The social network around here can get information and intelligence much faster than we do,” said Over, a Council Bluffs, Iowa, native. “Everybody knows everything. It’s like a small town.”
“They’ll tell us, ‘This car has been abandoned for two or three weeks, and we know it’s a bad guy’s car,’” Kelley said. “We are gathering intelligence from the Iraqis about what is out there. They tell us about everything that is going on in the area, so it is pretty easy for us to do our job.”
Over said putting Iraqis into service to protect their own homes is the central focus of the Marines’ mission.
“Right now the big mission is empowering the locals here to provide security for themselves,” he said. “Then it’s our job to go back and provide security patrols as well as ensure they are manning those checkpoints and keeping up their end of the bargain.”
The key, said Over, is conducting all recruiting through the sheiks. Sheiks are powerful tribal or community leaders who hold heavy influence over those living under their watch. By contacting these opinion leaders and communicating as openly as possible with them, Marines are keeping in step with thousands of years of tribal tradition.
“Depending on how the sheik may want to work it, they may go to each house and say, ‘Hey, we need a male from each house to man a checkpoint,’” Over explained. “We’re not really concerned how they provide the men. We’re concerned that they do provide the men to man the checkpoints, and they have done a really good job of doing that.”
Over said the ability of his Marines to adapt to the complex counterinsurgency fight is helping put Karmah residents back on the road to normalcy.
“My Marines are doing excellent out here. This area out here has been a huge success story. Prior to us coming … there was no military presence over here at all,” said Over. “This area was seen as the last stronghold for al Qaeda. So we pushed across and have been talking to locals, the majority of (insurgents) are all pushed out of the area. I’m sure there are a few stragglers left behind, and that is why we are still out here, to push those last few out and secure the area so the children can go back to school, all the farmers can go back to conducting their farming, and business can go on as normal.”
Kelley said that in particular, he has been pleased to see his less experienced Marines, for many of whom this is their first deployment, stepping readily into the role of instructor and mentor to the fledgling community watch.
“We’re moving as a unit and integrating the Iraqis into our patrols and clearing the whole village. It worked really well. Our junior Marines are teaching the Iraqis, which is a huge step for what junior Marines are used to doing,” he said.
The Marines of Co. L maintain continuous communication with the Iraqis of the village, constantly meeting with the sheiks to ensure the community watch has everything it needs to remain vigilant in the face of the enemy.
“(We) put them in the best position possible for them to succeed in what they are doing,” Over said.