ESIAWID DIYALA, Iraq --
Under the shade of blooming peach trees the soldiers of the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division are patrolling through the orchards and vineyards of Iraq’s “Breadbasket.”
Since coming to Diyala in early January, the battalion has been part of a major push to finally rid the province of Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.
Fighting, and living, alongside the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion are the fifteen Marines of the 2nd Battalion’s Military Transition Team.
The Marines are currently living in a school in the town of Eisawid that has been converted into the battalion’s temporary headquarters and barracks.
The Marines occupy a small room directly across the hall from their counterparts packed full of cots, gear, weapons and communications equipment. They are embedded with the battalion to advise and mentor their Iraqi counterparts as the battalion takes more and more responsibility for planning and conducting operations like those taking place in Diyala.
“It’s not the, ‘I’ll check on you next week’ mentality,” said 1st Lt. Jimmy W. Lindemann, 2nd Battalion MiTT maneuver trainer adviser.
Lindemann, an infantry officer from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and a native of Rosenberg, Texas works with the battalion’s operations officer planning and conducting missions.
The 2nd Battalion was sent to Diyala along with the rest of the 3rd Brigade from al-Anbar Province where they were providing security in the areas around Ramadi and Habbaniyah.
This battalion is bringing the positive lessons they learned operating successfully in al-Anbar with them to their new home here in Diyala.
“Iraqi knows Iraqi. I know how to talk to him, how to interact with him and interrogate him,” said Capt. Muhammad Karim Muhammad, 2nd Battalion operations officer.
The ability of Iraqi units to interact more closely with the local people has encouraged citizens to come forward and work with the army and Coalition forces. They provide tips on where to find terrorist training camps, weapons caches and improvised explosive devices, while some man security checkpoints in their towns and villages.
“When something happens, the people quickly come and tell me,” said 1st Lt. Khalid Shihab Ahmed al-Alwani, 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion company commander following a foot patrol through the town of Hembis.
During the patrol, al-Alwani made a point of stopping and talking to the numerous checkpoints manned by the Sons of Iraq that dotted the route. The SOI are local Iraqis who, fed up with terrorism, have begun cooperating with the Iraqi Army and assisting in providing security to the local population.
“Two months ago there was no one on the streets,” said Maj. John E. Orille, 2nd Battalion MiTT senior adviser. “Their operations have convinced the locals that the insurgents are not effective.”
The MiTT advisers sometimes accompany the Iraqis on these patrols, but the majority of the planning and execution is all done by the Iraqi Army.
“They can plan and execute battalion sized operations without an advisory role,” said Orille. “But their long range planning is limited.” The 2nd Battalion also lacks some important enabling assets, such as explosive ordnance disposal or aero-medical evacuation support.
As the battalion sees more and more success in Diyala they have largely transitioned from kinetic operations against the terrorists, and are focusing on maintaining the gains they have already made. That applies to their own readiness and proficiency as well. The battalion already has plans to institute a regular training program when they return to al-Anbar.
“If the MiTT were to disappear tomorrow, [the battalion] would be doing the same thing they’re doing now,” said Orille.
And in the end, that is what everyone, Iraqi and Marine alike, is hoping for.
“Our job is the same,” said Muhammad about the MiTT. “Our job is securing this country to provide peace and security to the people.” With men like Capt. Muhammad and 1st Lt. al-Alwani, the future in Iraq looks brighter every day.